The documentary feature “Buck,” opening today, is a compelling portrait of Buck Brannaman, the man renowned as the real-life horse whisperer. For months now, the film has been gathering critical acclaim and popular support. (For more information, and to view the trailer, go here.)
Director Cindy Meehl’s film richly deserves all the advanceraves it has received.And whileit’s must viewing for horse-crazy people,”Buck” is irresistible even to those who never think twice about horses. Anyone who cares about the humane treatment of all creatures – the four-legged and two-legged kind, most especially children – will be moved, struck, and changedbythisfilm’sadvocacy of gentleness over violence.
Buck’s legendary ability to calm horses in distress is nothing less than astonishing to watch: You’ll be amazed to see, in the words of Buck’s friend and fellow cowboy, footage of Buck in action: “He walks into a round pen, and in five minutes he’s got a horse following him around like a dog.”
But that’s not the film’s only reference to dogs. Recalling a particularly harrowing scene in his unimaginably difficult childhood, Buck calmly describes walking out of his abusive father’s house in sub-freezing weather. It was late at night, and he wasn’t wearing very much clothing. But he couldn’t go back inside for fear of his angry father’s retribution. Sothe childspent the night out there in a plastic drum, huddled together with the family dog for warmth.
Recalling Duke theBloodhound with obvious gratitude, Buck says, “I loved that dog.”
The memory of the dog is a comfort to the audience, too,afterwe learn just how muchsufferingBuck and his elder brother Smokie endured. The two boys were groomed by their father to perform rope tricks while blindfolded; they achieved celebrity for their skills, with several appearances on national TV, yet were punished – routinely and brutally – when their Dad was displeasedwith their performance.
Still, Buck never, ever stops to feel sorry for himself about the events that led to his being removed from his father’s home and placed in foster care. But he never forgotwhat he went through– and he tapsinto itto help peopleunderstand that old-school notions of “breaking” horses areas ineffective as they are cruel.
It’s profoundly moving and inspirational to see how thisstrong, sensitiveman- who counts director Robert Redford among his many fans – not onlyovercomes the ordeal of his childhood, but bravely mines it to help others. “When something is afraid fortheir life – I understand that,”Buck explains, by way of helpingpeople to understand that kindness and compassion go a long way in getting sensitive, highly-strung horses to perform.
Supporters of humane, positive-reinforcement dog training, such asmy fellow Dogster bloggerCasey Lomonaco, will certainly relate to Buck’s m.o.
In another scene, Buck wins major points with female audience members when he describes deferring to his wife on the number of dogs she chooses to keep. I won’t spoil this sweet highlight of the film. But I will say that it offers further compellingproof that – as we’ve seen before – men who are kind to dogs are extremely sexy to women!