(PG) Madman DVD

This sensitive documentary on horse whisperer Buck Brannaman quietly celebrates empathy and its transformative power.

The film follows Buck as he travels America conducting horse training clinics for nine months of the  year.  In contrast to the old system of cruelly “breaking” horses, Buck’s approach is grounded in respect, kindness and a deep understanding of the horse’s nature. Beautifully filmed sequences of  his work show the almost balletic partnership of horse and human that can emerge. In Buck’s words: “Everything you do with a horse is a dance.”

Buck’s life story is skilfully woven into this study of his work via old footage and Buck’s candid narration.  As a child, he worked as a professional rope trick entertainer with his brother, grieved his mother’s early death and suffered terrifying abuse from his violent father. Rescued by nurturing foster parents, Buck has used his pain to cultivate compassion, ending the cycle of abuse and fear.

This deceptively simple documentary makes its points as gently as Buck handles horses. Scenes of  the adult Buck among family and friends performing rope tricks from his anguished childhood wordlessly reveal a man shaped by his past, yet magnificently transcending it.

The film  is never sentimental, however. The sad fate of one neglected, possibly brain-damaged horse shows the limits of Buck’s powers.

Brannaman helped inspire the Nicholas Evans novel and Robert Redford film, The Horse Whisperer, and Redford appears on screen to share his observations of Buck, whom he terms “the real deal”.

The film is further enhanced by panoramic shots of epic landscapes and a quiet soundtrack featuring the human voice, sounds of nature and a subtle musical score.

By the film’s end, various dimensions of the horse/human relationship have become emblematic of  both the suffering and redemptive possibilities of life. As Buck says: “I thought I was just going to be there to get a colt started … but that wasn’t what it was about at all.”

Katrina Samaras


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