“A lot of the time I’m not helping people with horse problems. I’m helping horses with people problems.” That single line from Buck Brannaman, the figure at the center of Cindy Meehl’s warm documentary debut, “Buck,” is its beating heart, its rationale whole. Brannaman, the real-life figure who inspired “The Horse Whisperer,” isn’t quite 50, but he quietly, reassuringly bears the weight of greater years. He talks about an abusive childhood and how it turned him into the simple, direct, compelling figure he is today. His tones soothe the equine and human alike, making statements like “Your horse is a mirror to your soul, and sometimes you may not like what you see. Sometimes, you will” seem far removed from bromide and lackluster “life lessons.” His interactions with horses take the documentary, shot over the course of a year as he travels and teaches, to another level. Meehl’s shooting style is straightforward and plain, but she has a superb subject to bear her along. Goodness and kindness have rarely been caught so cleanly in film. It’s a thing of rude beauty. 88m. (Ray Pride)
“Buck” opens Friday at Landmark Century, Evanston Century Center and Landmark Renaissance.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.