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Perry’s Previews Movie Review – “Buck:” A Wise Cowboy Philosopher

Published on: 19th June, 2011

Perry Chen with Buck Brannaman at the San Diego premiere (photo by Zhu Shen)

Perry’s Previews Movie Review – “Buck:” A Wise Cowboy Philosopher

Rating: PG

(4.5 out of 5 starfish)


By Perry S. Chen

June 21, 2011

Perry Chen and mom Zhu Shen at Buck San Diego premiere (photo by Jeannett da Duck)



In training horses, it has always been about breaking wild horses and showing who the boss is, but could there be another way?

Buck Brannaman, a real life cowboy philosopher and the inspiration for the book and film “The Horse Whisperer,” knows that horse training is not all about being dominant to the horse, but about listening, discipline, and kindness.

Buck came from a tragic background, with his loving mother passing away when he was very young, and his abusive father beating him and his older brother “Smoky” to release his own anger.  Although Buck’s dad smiled in photos, I could not sense the warmth in him.  Buck managed to rise above all that and became a great horse whisperer and father, because he did not want to repeat the pain he experienced, and also because of his caring foster parents Forrest and Betsy Shirley.  I noticed that Buck teaches his horses the same way his foster parents treated him, by caring for them, being gentle, and showing that he is not a threat.

Buck was very hard-working from the start. Forrest and Betsy Shirley realized that he didn’t need pity and remorse, just a job to do.  Buck does the same with his wild horses.  His perseverance made him hardly seem like a victim.

Buck speaks with a soft voice, and is very philosophical, an uncommon talent for a cowboy.  He disciplines his horses like children, and says that “Your Horse is a mirror to your soul.  You may not always like what you see in the mirror, but it’s the truth.”  He trains his horses with a small red flag attached to a metal pole.  He rubs the flag on the horses if he is pleased with their response, and lightly hits them if they misbehave.  He says that it feels like being spanked by a sock.

Buck spends about 9 months a year on the road, hosting teaching clinics for horse owners throughout the country.  He learned the natural way to work with horses from his mentor Ray Hunt.  He not only “helps people with horse problems,” but also “horses with people problems.”

“Buck” is a “Perrific!” film.  I give it 4.5 out of 5 starfish!  It shows how Buck overcame his life’s challenges and how he treated his horses and people around him.  My favorite scene is when Buck had a wild colt in a pen and 5 minutes later, he was riding it.  To me it just seemed magical how he tames these amazing wild creatures.  I thought that the music had a Western style that gave the film a nice atmosphere.

I wish the filmmakers could have showed more about what Buck’s brother did later on and his relationship with Buck as they grew up together.  It is very impressive how director Cindy Meehl made such a great film that told an amazing story from many different perspectives: including old photos and TV footage, interviews with Buck’s childhood friends, his wife, daughter, foster mom, people who attended his horse clinics, and actor and filmmaker Robert Redford who directed “The Horse Whisperer.”  It is hard to believe that this is only the director’s first film!

I recommend this film to anybody older than 8, because younger kids might be scared of a bloody scene with a trainer.  This film is not just for horse lovers, but for everybody as well.  I think kids can learn a lot from this film too, such as how to overcome your past, stop finding excuses for yourself, appreciate challenges from their parents.

Perry Chen & mom Zhu Shen with Buck and his wife Mary at San Diego premiere



Mom and I are delighted to meet Buck and his wife Mary at the film’s San Diego premiere on June 16, 2011.  At the post-screening Q&A moderated by our friend, fellow film critic Dan Bennett, Buck was warmly received by the audience, including many who attended his horse clinic in San Diego.  Many people asked questions (I did too), which he answered with wit, a warm smile, and a deep, Southern drawl.  I could not believe that he was once a painfully shy boy, considering how witty and thoughtful his comments were.  He was often humorous too in the movie and at the Q&A.  He seems like a natural speaker.

I asked Buck about the best part of his job, and he said it is to “say the right things to someone that will help them with their lives or the rest of their lives” when “something profound happens.”

Buck Brannaman checking out Perry Chen's business card (photo by Zhu Shen)



An 11-year-old boy in cowboy outfit asked Buck what he would have done if he didn’t become a cowboy, Buck laughed and said, “a truck driver.” He does drive a lot on the road!

The moral of the film: Adversity could be your best teacher, if you can rise above it. (official website)

Copyright 2011 by Perry S. Chen


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Perry S. Chen is a 11-year-old award-winning film critic & artist, actor, entertainment personality, Annie Awards for Animation presenter, TEDx speaker,  filmmaker and animator.  He writes about movies for San Diego’s largest newspaper, the Union Tribune with over 1 million readers.  Perry is also the youngest columnist and entertainment critic for the San Diego Entertainer Magazine.  He also blogs for Animation World Network, the leading animation industry publication, and is the resident film critic for Amazing Kids! with about 1 million readers.

Perry’s collaboration with Oscar-nominee Bill Plympton led to 2 animation shorts: “Guard Dog Global Jam” which won “Best Experimental Film” at ASIFA-EAST Animation Festival; and “Ingrid Pitt: Beyond the Forest” which will premiere at Comic-Con in July 2011. (Perry Chen at “Guard Dog Global Jam” LA premiere, New Media Film Festival, May 20, 2011) (About Perry Chen)

Perry won the San Diego Press Club 2010 Excellence in Journalism Award, and is represented by Rebel Entertainment Partners, a talent agency in Hollywood; and Shamon Freitas Agency in San Diego.

Perry started writing movie reviews using his unique kids-friendly starfish rating system on his website ( ) as an 8-year-old third grader at San Diego’s Torrey Hills Elementary School from the Del Mar Union School District.

Perry became a national sensation when he debuted on the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric in May 2009 as the youngest film critic in the country.  He was featured on National Public Radio (NPR) with host Liane Hansen in March 2010, and has reviewed over 70 movies and DVDs on a multi-media platform: TV, radio, print, and web.  He is the youngest member of the Asian American Journalist Association, the San Diego Press Club,  and the youngest honoree of Cox Communication Channel 4’s annul Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

Perry reviews films on a kids-friendly starfish rating system, 5 being the best.

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