A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
Buck Brannaman was the original "Horse Whisperer," the character who inspired Nicholas Sparks' novel and was hired by Robert Redford as on-set consultant for his 1998 film. He has a way with horses, and Cindy Meehl's documentary is moving as he shows them engaged in dances of understanding. W.G. Sebald once wrote, "Men and animals regard each other across a gulf of mutual incomprehension," but Buck and his animals seem to have bridged it.
We see footage of Buck and his brother Bill in childhood as "Buckshot and Smokie, the Idaho Cowboys." They appeared onstage, at rodeos and even on a TV game show, and were being beaten regularly by their father. They were well-trained. They could do rope tricks while blindfolded, but in the footage we see they never look happy but more like frightened robots.
One of the film's most affecting moments comes when Buck remembers a high school coach telling him to undress and take a shower, and then seeing the welts on his back and legs. A deputy sheriff was called in, and Buck was taken away from his father and placed in a foster home. Curiously, the movie makes no mention of brother Bill.
There was an older approach to horse training that resembled Buck's father's cruelty as he trained his boys. Standing against this trend, we learn, were two legendary horse trainers named Tom Dorrance and Ray Hunt, and when young Buck saw Hunt at work, one must assume he powerfully yearned to have been treated with as much gentleness and compassion.