One need not be a horse enthusiast to appreciate Cindy Meehl‘s richly textured Buck, a profound and moving portrait of channeling misfortune into something positive, and far and away one of the best documentaries of 2011.
Horses are majestic creatures, but known to have their own personalities, which often leads to training practices predicated on harsh punishments. Soft-spoken, middle-aged Buck Brannaman (above), who travels the country more than eight months a year giving clinics to horse owners, preaches compassion and respect, and in doing so underscores how the animal-human relationship is in many ways a metaphor for the challenges of self-betterment, and life itself.
Part of the inspiration for both Robert Redford’s
1998 film The Horse Whisperer, as well as the novel upon which it is based, the
quietly charismatic Brannaman is an endlessly engaging and paradoxical figure — a figure who shuns the sort of attention he naturally draws forth. The delicate illumination of his incredible gift and way with horses is fascinating in and of itself, but Meehl shades her movie with plenty of Brannaman’s personal story, which includes the death of his birth mother and a terribly abusive early childhood. The love of his incredible foster parents, including the wry aphorisms of his mother Shirley (“Blessed are the flexible, for they don’t get bent out of shape”), seem to have penetrated a protective veneer all the way to Brannaman’s core, and serve as a powerful example of the roles that adult care, choice and focus play in overcoming fundamental disadvantages. The feelings Buck elicits linger with one long after viewing. It’s a deeply humanistic film, rendered with grace, compassion and an unfussy aptitude. For an interview with Meehl, click here. (Sundance Select, unrated, 88 minutes)