True Tale of Horse Whisperer Catching Buzz

Claudine Zap
Movie Talk
Buck Brannaman Sundance Select/IFC Films
Buck Brannaman Sundance Select/IFC Films

The real-life horse whisperer who inspired the 1998 fictional movie "The Horse Whisperer" is now the star of his own film. Called "Buck," the documentary follows the life of the cowboy-philosopher Buck Brannaman, as he works his magic with horses and their owners. (And yes, Robert Redford even appears.)

The movie was directed by Cindy Meehl, who shot 300 hours of film to put together the narrative, which won the Documentary Audience Award at Sundance this year.

Its first fans seem to be on to something, as the film is starting to pick up buzz. On Yahoo! in the last month alone, searches on the horse trainer have jumped 700%.

The true tale follows the horse tamer, who was raised in Idaho and suffered an abusive childhood at the hands of his father. That led him and his brother into foster care. The young Buck found solace in horses, and training them became his calling.

The horse tamer practices the methods of "natural horsemanship," and his background of abuse led him to reject violence. In one scene, Brannaman stands near a clearly nervous horse, and looks over at the owner as he bluntly tells her, "This horse tells me a lot about you." The woman nods, in tears, and confesses she feels like a "fool" and a "failure" as he hugs her and tells her, "It's all right." It's a poignant moment, one of many in the movie.

The married father of three daughters shows deep empthy toward damaged creatures, both human and animal. As the trainer explains on his website: "I started to realize that things would come much easier for me once I learned why a horse does what he does."

Brannaman travels the country sharing this gentle path to gentling horses. As he explains, "A lot of times, rather than helping people with horse problems, I'm helping horses with people problems." And that theme has already touched the most cynical audience of all: critics.

The Los Angeles Times says "Buck" is "an exceptional slice of Americana about the charismatic real-life horse whisperer." The reviewer noted that the "up-by-the-bootstraps" story has the potential popularity of "The Blind Side." The movie blog SlashFilm gushed, "This is the kind of heartstring-puller that really gets me."

The film opens on June 17. See the trailer of "Buck":