Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Cindy Meehl's BUCK: an extraordinary movie about an extraordinary man

Such a quiet, unobtrusive movie is BUCK -- the new documentary from Cindy Meehl about an unforgettable man named Buck Brannaman -- that the film pretty much sneaks up on you. Only 88 minutes long, it's gone before you quite know what hit you. Like the recent Bill Cunningham documentary, Buck sports the kind of filmmaking that would rather show than tell. Whenever the director, below, has a chance to go for the kill, nail her subject to the wall and get all the deep, dark information we might crave, she goes no farther and instead lets us fit together what we have already seen, heard and can legitimately ascertain.

Buck Brannaman is a fellow who trains horses -- like you've never seen them trained, and with results better than, well, anywhere else on earth, I suspect. Buck manages this by, in a sense, training the horse owner as much as the animal itself -though he is very, very good with that, too. The footage of the horse training is, I think, as exciting as anything in any other movie I've seen this year (or last): suspenseful, moving, awe-inspiring.  There is one long section that involves a golden horse (I don't know horses; is this a Palomino, perhaps?) that is as intense and shocking as a kick in the groin (or, in this case, a bite in the head).

As a child Buck was raised in an abusive home, a fact that we see and hear about and that clearly has helped form his adulthood. And yet this is hardly a simple explanation for anything we see. The man has learned from his experience and clearly hopes to make his own children's life much different. But neither the film nor its subject ever preaches. Buck sets an example and leaves it at that. And Ms Meehl is content to follow suit.

Buck would make a good psychologist. Hell, he already is. "Your horses's behavior," he explains to one woman, "tells me quite a lot about you." Later after all that transpires, she repeats this line, and breaks down in tears. There is a mystery at the heart of Buck, the man, and Buck the movie, and it is one that you will probably be content to roll around in your own mind without demanding an answer. In any case, I believe you would have to be the man in question to fully understand. In a year of fine documentaries that just get better and better, Buck is a standard-bearer of sorts.

The film, from Sundance Selects, opens this Friday, June 17, in New York City at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and the IFC Center.

Look for it on VOD and DVD eventually, as is the case with most Sundance Selects films. For now, though, the theater is the only place you can meet Buck.

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