“Buck” is the year’s best documentary for a lot of reasons, but mainly because of its honesty.
The focus of the film is Buck Brannaman, a modern day cowboy who works with horses and their owners. Buck has an amazing way of “breaking” young horses – getting them to behave and be calm so that people can ride them. He handles the animals with care, understanding and love.
Why this is amazing is because as a young child Buck didn’t gert any of those things from his own father, who beat him and his brother on a daily basis. The two boys were very talented doing rope tricks – getting on TV shows and even doing a commercial. But the abuse at home was incredible so, after his mother died, Buck and his brother were taken to a foster home.
One day he saw a demonstration in which a horseman was able to calm some wild colts using just words and a single rope and Buck decided that’s what he wanted to do. Year’s later Robert Redford based his character in “The Horse Whisperer” on Buck, and Brannaman actually became a consultant on the movie. Redford shares some great stories on Buck’s contribution in the film and one clip from the 1998 film is a highlight.
But most of the compelling stories come from Brannaman himself: Memories of his childhood; the loneliness of his job, which keeps him on the road, mostly by himself, for 9 months a year; and the similarities between how horses and humans should be treated. All spoken with brutal honesty.
This is an extremely well designed documentary. Director Cindy Meehl takes us back and forth from Brannaman’s difficult past to his current successful life, always keeping us unsure of what’s coming next. We travel around the country with Buck (and his daughter in some scenes) and watch him work his magic on these horses – and their owners. And his sense humor is present throughout the film. But so is his sadness. “Buck” is both serious and uplifting – horrifying and hopeful.
It’s rated PG for mild language and the abuse issue. It’s ok for kids 10 and up but really is a film that everyone should see. It has all the elements necessary for a great documentary: an interesting subject, presented in an fascinating way so the audience not only learns about the topic but is moved emotionally.
On The Official Kid Critic Report Card, “Buck” gets an A-. It has already picked-up several end of the year awards and I’ll be disappointed if it doesn’t get an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature.