Directed by Cindy Meehl
Not many people have heard of Buck Brannaman outside of the horse world. It is not a name, or in fact a personality, which calls attention to itself. But ask most people within the horsing world who Buck is and they will tell you. But perhaps you already know Buck. Have you ever seen the 1998 Robert Redford film The Horse Whisperer? If you have not, I am sure a lot of people have at least heard of it. Well, Buck Brannaman is that man. The film was not originally based on Buck, but once Redford contacted him while conducting research, the character in the film was slowly influenced by the unassuming, easy going, almost mythical personality of Buck Brannaman.
Brannaman is more than just your typical cowboy, however. He was a child celebrity, along with his brother. The duo, known as Smokie and Buckshot, were rope masters from an early age, taught by their father. By the age of 4 Buck was certified by the rodeo association, the youngest to ever receive certification. But while his father was his teacher, he was also his abuser after his loving mother passed away. Buck eventually was taken in by foster parents who are a big part of his life to this day. Now Buck spends 9 months out of the year on the road teaching 4 day clinics on how to train your horse. His style is much more consensual than traditional methods, which earned him the moniker “Horse Whisper”, but his past plays a larger part than maybe you or I know.
More often than not documentaries are only as good as their subjects are interesting. Sometimes you get the film which excels for what it is able to catch on film while the cameras happen to be rolling, and what wonderful documentaries those are, but the truth is that cannot be planned out by the filmmaker. So when a film comes along that is a profile of a single man, you better make sure he has a great story and a great personality. Lucky for us, Buck Brannaman is that subject. If Brannaman was just a gentle soul with a knack for training horses and communicating with people it would be a good film, but he is more than that, and his story goes deeper than that.
Bill Cunningham New York is another documentary released earlier this year which chronicles fashion photographer Bill Cunningham and his is a great personality to get to know and spend time with, and that is a film I greatly enjoyed. The two films are similar, but what Buck manages is to bring more of an “overcome adversary” story with Brannaman’s past, and in some ways even his present. I can’t say Cindy Meehl does anything as a filmmaker to push the film past its material, but she does piece it together in a nice way. It does a good job of exploring what makes Buck Buck, and how it has influenced his way of life and profession.
For Buck to recover as well as he did from an abusive childhood is a testament to his courage and the love his foster parents gave him. As a cowboy, a profession which is often portrayed as tough and hard nosed, Buck is much more shy and gentle, though he is not afraid to speak his mind. His connection with the horses shows the beauty of the human spirit and the ability to redeem and learn from mistakes and experiences. It is worth the 90 minutes to sit down and get to know Buck a little bit more, even the spontaneous dramatic scene never truly arises, Buck Brannaman is a man worth knowing and learning from.