Brannaman has cracked how man and horse are supposed to interact. Meehl also includes instances of where the relationship has broken down, sometimes beyond Brannaman’s expertise. In keeping with Buck’s tight framing of Brannaman’s life, there are heartbreaking anecdotes from his childhood that perfectly illustrate similar human-horse scenarios. He talks about how terrified of his foster father he was, not because the man had done anything to him, but because a young Brannaman was terrified of all men. A gift of work gloves started the thaw, but it’s easy to imagine him never getting over that earned fear. Conversely, when Brannaman goes to help a horse who’s just as skittish thanks to negligent ownership, there’s little he can do to heal mental wounds. Strikingly perfect on the outside, the stallion is violent, biting handlers and attacking cars. The sting of the failure haunts Brannaman to his next stop, as he’s shown to be a man who doesn’t believe in giving up on the creatures that he’s spent his life with, just as his foster family didn’t believe in giving up on a scarred and battered kid like him.
Those kinds of connections are all over Buck, and between Brannaman’s gentle charisma, the beauty of the animals and the vistas, and a gentle score by David Robbins with contributions from Eddie Vedder, the simplicity of the film is affecting and powerful. It’s readily apparent why someone like Robert Redford would so admire Brannaman, as does everyone who meets him. It is easy to imagine him paying back the malice he was shown as a child to the world, but he’s taken the exact opposite tack. He’s shown here to be some kind of modern-day saint, single-handedly healing an oft-fraught interspecies relationship. Buck plays out as a canonization, and a deserved one. B+