May 23, 2013
Written by Mark Schumann, Father of Three
Friday, 12 August 2011 12:38
Each week, the Reel Dad checks the nutritional value of a movie — new or classic — to help parents choose what to watch. This week’s pick is a new documentary, Buck.The beauty of documentary films is how they take us inside worlds that actually exist. Long before reality television created farce from people’s lives — and seriously damaged audience patience for the authentic real-life film experience — the documentary explored reality like no other medium. To appreciate a carefully constructed documentary is the best of movie experiences especially when a film takes us to people and places we would never get the chance to visit.
The exquisite new documentary Buck celebrates the best of what documentary film can accomplish. On the surface, it tells the story of Buck Brannaman, the horse trainer whose unique approach to his work inspired the book and the film The Horse Whisperer. And while his story is compelling, the power of Buck is how director (and Redding resident) Cindy Meehl uses his narrative to explore the meaningful truths that lie behind the eyes of horses and the man they learn to trust.
Meehl follows Brannaman through his rigorous schedule conducting four-day workshops for horses and their owners. We catch glimpses of his routine loneliness as he travels from one ranch to another, away from his family, with only solitude as his constant. He openly shares a childhood filled with parental abuse, a high school coach who exposed his family situation, a local policeman who freed him from his boyhood home, and a foster mother who opened her heart with genuine love. We discover how he developed his unique approach to working with horses, focusing on building trust and recognizing that most problems with animals are founded in the weaknesses of their owners. As he remarks, there is nothing going on with a horse that doesn’t reflect what is happening with the people who own and train them.
We learn, through Buck’s eyes and words, how a child of abuse must confront the truth of that experience and decide whether or not to let it define the future. Buck chooses to move beyond his past by refusing to let those conditions limit his potential. As he develops his craft over the years, as well as his reputation as a miracle man with horses, he frees himself from the limits his childhood could have imposed. He looks at his life with the conviction of a man who lives for the present, making the most of each moment, freed from the restrictions of long-ago tragedy.
Meehl beautifully captures the essence of Buck, and his work with horses, through a series of well-orchestrated interview segments that seamlessly connect the narrative. Augmenting Buck’s words are observations from those who know him well and sequences of his work with horses. One highlight — for anyone who enjoyed The Horse Whisperer on film — is comments from director/actor Robert Redford who attributes much of that film’s artistic success to Buck’s contributions. As a man with low tolerance for anything artificial, Redford describes Buck as “the real deal.”
Some of my film friends — who claim to be “up” on everything good in movies — tell me they avoid documentaries because they are “reality television on the big screen.” How much they miss by missing the work of talented filmmakers who choose real people and places. In the hands of a director as creative as Meehl, the documentary is not only an authentic experience, it is as artistically satisfying as any movie you will experience this year. The people just happen to be real.
* Content: High. As with the best of documentary films, Buck explores a fascinating subject in a thoughtful, insightful way.
* Entertainment: High. Thanks to the creative direction of Cindy Meehl, Buck the documentary is as entertaining as any scripted movie this year.
* Message: High. While the film is not a traditional “message” picture, it does offer a meaningful moral that relationships — with people and animals — must ground themselves in reality.
* Relevance: High. Any opportunity to get to know such an inspiring man is relevant to any audience.
* Opportunity for Dialogue: High. For adults, the film offers a welcome diversion from traditional summer movies. For children, the film is an excellent introduction to the wonders of film documentaries.
(Buck is rated PG for thematic elements, mild language and an injury. The film runs 88 minutes.)
5 Popcorn Buckets
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