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Cindy Meehl's BUCK

Cindy Meehl’s BUCK is a horseman’s story. A character portrait featuring trainer Buck Brannaman – probably one of the best looking modern cowboys you’ll ever see (never mind his beautiful wife and daughter), BUCK is a story of self-realization. This coming-of-self angle may be why the film has been winning awards all over the place and crossing over to audiences who don’t give a lick about horses. That’s me, really (a rider I am not), but I have to say I wasn’t as charmed as I wanted to be. I took my son and had to explain beforehand that much of the movie was going to concern the fact that Buck had been mentally and physically abused by his alcoholic father. (“What’s abuse?” asked my son. When I told him some children are beaten he looked at me earnestly and said, “You and daddy don’t do that.”) Buck’s journey from foster child to world-class horse whisperer who revolutionized the way horses are trained is definitely interesting, but this is a case of slight overhype. “Much of the movie – too much of it – is just Buck in the corral, riding, working with ropes and flags, conditioning a horse to behave,” says Orlando Sentinal critic Roger Moore.

I agree. The problem? There simply isn’t that much to film here, forcing the film to rely upon dull archival and interview footage that’s good, but can only go so far. In other words, the actual aggregate amount of live, horse whispering footage – of getting a wild pony to behave – is pretty slim. It’s also a slow process and as such is difficult to capture. It does deliver, granted, in one very dramatic, climactic scene, but it’s almost not enough. Buck’s interview and interactions that elucidate his amazingly humane approach to his work does indeed have larger meaning – a sense of goodness and decency that should be applied to all relationships in life, but once I digested that very nourishing nugget I was left wanting more. The cinematography delivers and it’s fun to live in his world, but BUCK, overall, seems to address more of a need for positive, self-actualizing material within the documentary canon than to exist as a stand-alone, exemplary film. Check out the trailer here:

-AH