Reality Trumps Fiction

On Screen: “Buck” Review

Horse trainer documentary
far superior “Whisperer” movie it inspired

Oftentimes reality is much more fascinating than fiction. This is certainly the case with “The Horse Whisperer,” a sappy and melodramatic movie about a horse trainer with a compassionate and intuitive approach to his work.

While Robert Redford was undoubtedly convincing in the role of the horse trainer, one of the main, real-life inspirations for the character, Buck Brannaman, makes a much more compelling subject for a movie than any concoction Hollywood could ever hope to dream up.

The documentary “Buck” follows Brannaman around the United States as he travels from ranch to ranch conducting clinics for horse owners from all walks of life.

“Buck” is an absolute must-see for horse-lovers out there, but there is also plenty to enjoy for we non-equine-adorers as well. “Buck” won the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival, which was of course founded by Redford – and Redford himself does make a small appearance in the film – but I’m fairly convinced Bob didn’t have to put his thumb on the scale for this movie to walk away with the prize. “Buck” is an out-and-out crowd pleaser all on its own.

While much of the movie does focus on Brannaman and his work with horses, it is his personal story that draws the viewer in.
Brannaman and his brother were child-celebrities on the rodeo circuit, as they spent the 1960s working as trick ropers. Unfortunately, their father was an alcoholic who regularly and savagely beat the two boys.

When the abuse was finally discovered, the Brannaman boys were plucked out of their home and sent to live on a ranch with a foster family. It was there Buck began to work more closely with horses which later led to his studying nonviolent techniques of horse training.

Director Cindy Meehl lets Brannaman tell his own story which serves the movie well as his warm and engaging personality shines through. Meehl also gives us plenty of stunning shots of the high and wide Western sky and of Brannaman exhibiting his considerable skill. Watching him coolly deal with a brain-damaged stud who viciously attacks anyone who comes near is as tense and riveting as any action movie you are likely to come across.


Brannaman also has some pointed words for the horse’s owner that reflects the statement he makes at the beginning of the film that people come to him with horse problems, but it is often the horse that has people problems.

“Buck” is not only a very well-made documentary, but it is also the celebration of a man who was dealt a lousy hand by life, yet who was able to channel years of abuse into something incredibly positive. This movie is the perfect antidote for those seeking relief from the soulless blockbusters currently haunting your local multiplex. Just try to keep your shouts of “Yee-Haw!” to a minimum.

“Buck” is rated PG for thematic elements, mild language and an injury.

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