Buck - DVD Review

'Brannaman's methods seem more to do with common sense than to do with his past but common sense isn't such a good framing device for a story and Meehl can be forgiven for jazzing the narrative up in these areas'

There's a notable word lacking from the synopsis and press material of Buck, a word that is replaced instead by things like 'portrait', 'examination' and 'story'. The missing word - 'documentary' - seems deliberately avoided. Perhaps there's a wider concern for film fans that it is avoided because documentaries are still largely little-seen and unpopular but, referring especially to its absence from Buck, 'documentary' also now normally implies some sort of investigation, or critical evaluation of its subject matter.

Buck has none of these things. It is instead a snapshot of someone you are most likely unfamiliar with unless you happen to own a horse and a ranch in one of America's wide open spaces. The subject of the film, Buck Brannaman, travels these places giving 'clinics' on horse training and behaviours. As one of his friends puts it, 'I've never seen him whisper to a horse but yes, I guess he's a horse whisperer'.

Director Cindy Meehl's aim then, if not to evaluate Brannaman's methods and practice, is to provide us with a glimpse into the life of a little-seen individual who has overcome hardship and now seems to have a lot of influence over the lives of those he comes into contact with. In that regard, Buck is a successful film. Brannaman's methods seem more to do with common sense than to do with his past but common sense isn't such a good framing device for a story and Meehl can be forgiven for jazzing the narrative up in these areas. The photography is beautiful and the subject is presented, although overwhelmingly positively, in an straight-shooting way which also hints at his failings; he's too sharp with people on occasion, for example, and an incident with a rogue horse towards the end proves that he perhaps isn't quite the magic-worker some think him to be.

Ultimately Meehl's film is a pleasant way to spend a fleeting eighty-eight minutes and those who work with horses will get substantially more out of it than those who don't but it also cannot escape its lack of analysis. Without a film-makers' critical eye, someone to present the opposite side of the argument, suggest that Brannaman's methods aren't all they're cracked up to be perhaps, Buck does have to shoulder the accusation that it is an enterprise formerly concerned with promotion. Non-fiction film-making needs to be a bit more analytical than this to truly present something of interest. It needs the word 'documentary', and it needs it whether audiences are ready to embrace it or not.




Buck is on limited release in the UK from Friday 13th April.

Look further...

'this will even prove to be a moving and inspirational experience for viewers who have no interest in horsemanship' - Andy Buckle's Film Emporium, 4/5

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