REVIEW: Buck

20 07 2011

There’s nothing terribly wrong with “Buck,” Cindy Meehl’s documentary about the real “horse whisperer” Buck Brannaman.  It’s a little story of a tortured soul who finds his calling in being gentle and humane, told with tenderness and compassion.  Using the pretty standard biographical documentarian style, it weaves back and forth between Buck’s present day giving unorthodox horse training clinics and his past, both painful and glorious.

But while this is all good and nice, I spent most of the movie wondering why I was watching it on the silver screen as opposed to a 22-inch screen in my kitchen.  The small scale of “Buck” makes it feel like a double-length Animal Planet special that you save on TiVo for a few months before playing.  You can even feel the built-in commercial breaks!  Meehl’s small-scale filmmaking seems targeted towards a niche audience (even more so than the independent film community) because it lacks universality.  When the most profound insight offered in the film is Buck saying “your horse is a mirror to your soul,” you know it’s only going to strike a chord with a select few out there.

I’m not one to demand that a documentary expose vast injustice (like “The Cove“) or hypothesize about massive financial meltdowns (like “Inside Job“); they can be just as powerful by narrowing their lens on a smaller subject.  However, this narrowing should always be to widen our perspective, not limit it.  Buck Brannaman, noble gentleman and very interesting figure that he is, simply doesn’t feel like a microcosm of anything.  He’s fun to watch like a skin-deep Barbara Walters special, but he lacks a certain cinematic quality that makes “Buck” underwhelm.  B- / 

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