***1/2 (out of four)
It’s not that people have horse problems; trainer Buck Brannaman says he specializes in helping horses with people problems. Brannaman spends nine months a year traveling around the country to teach four-day clinics … And before you say “I don’t care about horses,” know that Brannaman won the respect of Robert Redford and scored a hug from (14-year-old) Scarlett Johansson when serving as a consultant on “The Horse Whisperer.”
The buzz: Rest assured, the documentary “Buck” isn’t geared only to people (like Brannaman) raised in Montana and familiar with life on a ranch. In a manner anyone can appreciate, director Cindy Meehl chronicles the abuse Brannaman suffered as a young boy at the hand of his father and how he grew to preach the importance of disciplining horses without abuse. (“Respect isn’t fear,” he says, “It’s acceptance.”)
The verdict: If I can be riveted by a document of the courage and sensitivity it takes to calm a horse, anyone can. Brannaman, a cowboy whose mental and physical skills deserve admiration, clearly sees himself in horses who have been treated badly and just need proper encouragement to get their feet underneath them. “Buck” pushes its metaphors about animals mirroring people a little hard. It would be even more powerful with a deeper look at the development of horse training to show just how revolutionary Brannaman’s methods are. The beautiful “Buck” is a primer on emotion control—really, how much is ever accomplished when angry or bitter?—and the ways that mammals shape mammals, whether the relationship is father-son or owner-horse.
Did you know? Brannaman recalls hearing Oprah Winfrey say that man’s biggest aphrodisiac is running the vacuum in front of his wife. Are you more or less turned on knowing that the advice came from Oprah?
Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Fridays at 7 a.m. on WCIU, the U