Buck Brannaman is an American cowboy and sage on horseback who travels the country for nine months a year helping horses with people problems. He overcame his abusive childhood to carve out a phenomenally successful approach to horses. A real-life "horse-whisperer", he eschews the violence of his upbringing and teaches people to communicate with their horses through leadership and sensitivity, not punishment. Buck possesses near magical abilities as he dramatically transforms horses - and people - with his understanding, compassion and respect.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It's honest, sincere and engaging, a feel-good movie about a man who loves horses and helps their owners, who often need more care than the horses. Horses are his life - and his safe haven. If he seems to talk to horses, they seem to talk back, in their own silent way.
For nine months every year, Buck Brannaman travels the US running 4-day horse training clinics. His message to horse owners is simple: treat them with the love you'd treat your kids. That is, if you aren't like his abusive daddy was. Buck had to be rescued from his dad after his mum died. He morphed his demons and his pain into being a friend to horses - and to people, too.
Blessed are the flexible for they shall not be bent out of shape - that was Buck's foster mother's mantra. Buck's story is neither soppy nor sloppy; he's a man's man, a cowboy who knows how to handle horses, make horse shoes, tie ropes ... and deal with people who can't deal with themselves. All in one tough cookie package.
The great pleasure of this film is that we meet Buck the man as well as Buck the horseman; it's a rounded and balanced doco, a rich, complex, miniature biopic of Buck who bucked his fate.
He's happily married with a daughter, and his life is full of showing people how to treat horses. If you don't like people, this movie is for you. If you don't like horses - this movie is also for you: it might change your life (for the better). It even teaches us lessons about relationships in marriage - and maybe teenagers ... I know, unexpected.
Review by Louise Keller:
Horses are a mirror of your soul, says Buck Brannaman in this unique documentary about a unique man whose philosophy dealing with horses goes much further than the stable. He's the real deal, says Robert Redford, recalling when the man they call the Horse Whisperer was his double and equine technical advisor on the 1998 film he directed and in which he starred with Scarlett Johansson. He could do things the trainer couldn't do, Redford tells in an interview about his dealings with Buck. It's one of the memorable moments in the film and even more memorable is the way Buck himself tells an amusing anecdote from the making of the film, when he reminds the Hollywood producers that the horse isn't an actor, but a horse.
The essence of the film however is all about Buck, a gentle, quietly spoken man who has a way with horses. On the road 40 weeks in the year, travelling around the country through areas including Idaho, Iowa and Montana, Buck runs horse clinics which are not only educational, but also entertaining. In these clinics, held in outside enclosures, he teaches ranch roping, how to herd cows but most importantly in teaching horsemanship, he imparts his philosophies about how to handle a horse. He might be helping people with horse problems but the way he puts it, he is helping horses with people problems.
Fine horsemanship is a way of life, he says as he explains the way you treat your horse spills over into how you treat your spouse, discipline your children and lead your life. These philosophies did not come easily to the man who suffered trauma and physical abuse from the hands of his violent father as a youngster. He and his older brother Smoky were trick ropers, childhood celebrities who performed at rodeos and fairs. Scarred for life by the shocking beatings given to him by his father, he found safety and companionship in horses. Everyone has a burden to bear, he says. (Buck hasn't lost his skill with the ropes, by the way, as he shows in a demonstration.)
Watching Buck working with horses in his clinics is a wondrous thing. It's all about 'the feel', he explains as he shows how to be firm but not unfair. The miracles he performs with horses as he shows their owners how to handle them are seemingly effortless. Things don't always go right, mind you. Even the sad story about the dangerous, unpredictable stud that was orphaned as a colt has a lesson for us to learn. The human failed the horse, Buck tells the crowd who watch in horror as the horse gets out of control and bites its trainer on the head. Earlier, we hear Buck tell some candid facts of life to the woman who owns the stud as he suggests the horse reveals much about her. There are tears and admissions, and although there is no happy ending to this particular story, there is much to learn from it.
There's a lot more to tell about Buck, his family, the horses and people he encounters but best to hear it from the man himself. I was entranced and intensely moved by this marvellous and unforgettable documentary, the film debut of director Cindy Meehl. It's as down-to-earth as the land on which the horses roam, as riveting as any drama, has sprigs of humour and a barnyard full of heart. I felt as though it a privilege to meet the man who may not literally whisper to horses, but has a tangible, spiritual connection to them.
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CAST: Documentary featuring Buck Brannaman, Robert Redford
PRODUCER: Julie Goldman
DIRECTOR: Cindy Meehl
SCRIPT: Not credited
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Luke Geissbuhler, Guy Mossman
EDITOR: Toby Shimin
MUSIC: David Robbins
PRODUCTION DESIGN: n/a
RUNNING TIME: 88 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Madman
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 16, 2012