Harry Potter winds down, Buck: The man who could talk to horses

by Mark Burger

With much fanfare, the Harry Potter franchise comes to a grand close with Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows — Part 2 , which nicely ties up the story’s threads and proves a worthy finale to the series.

Picking up immediately where Deadly Hallows — Part 1 left off – those unfamiliar with the Potter canon (if such a thing is possible) will be utterly clueless — we find Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) in exile and preparing for the inevitable final battle with Harry’s life-long nemesis, the sorcerer Lord Valedemort (Ralph Fiennes).

Having had to do a lot of growing up in the last few films, Harry is as determined to vanquish Valdemort as Valdemort is determined to vanquish him, culminating in a battle royale that nearly lays waste to Hogwarts, the school that Harry once called home. Romantic entanglements are a secondary consideration here.

The film occasionally feels a little anticlimactic, particularly after a seven-film buildup, but it’s been assembled and executed in confident fashion. Overall, the Harry Potter films have remained remarkably consistent, not just in terms of box-office success but in quality. Some are better than others, but none of the films is really bad. There’s a consistency here that has served the films, and their audiences, well. The same can’t be said of many franchises that often tend to re-do the same themes over and over again.

Producer David Heyman, screenwriter Steve Kloves, executive producer JK Rowling (upon whose wildly popular books the films are based) and helmer David Yates (director of the last four installments including this one) have not deviated from the successful formula, thereby bringing the millions of fans considerable enjoyment and billions of dollars to the studio.

When the film series began a decade ago, the young leads were heartily supported by an all-star cast of some of Britain’s best talent, which provided a foundation. Now, the leading actors (Watson, Grint and particularly Radcliffe) — not unlike the characters they portray — have eased smoothly onto center stage, driving the action and the story. They’re the foundation now.

Of course, it’s still a treat to see the likes of Fiennes, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Jim Broadbent, Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Gary Oldman, John Hurt, Jason Isaacs, Michael Gambon, David Thewlis, Julie Walters, Cirian Hinds and (for a split-second) Emma Thompson on hand. The gang’s all here, so to speak. Even those actors whose characters who met their cinematic fates several installments ago manage to materialize. (In a movie like this, death is hardly final.)

If, indeed, this is the end of Harry Potter on the big screen — and one can never be sure, particularly given the series’ popularity, it’s a good one to go out on.

Opening Friday, Cindy Meehl’s documentary Buck is the story of Buck Brannaman, a man perhaps most accurately described as a horse trainer but more persuasively, and tellingly, as a “horse whisperer.” His lifetime of success working with animals has made him something of a legend in his own time, although as the film shows, Buck Brannaman is uncommonly humble and unassuming — just a regular fellow with an unmistakable gift, and an equally unmistakable love, for what he does.

Branaman was the man upon whom Nick Evans based his best-selling novel, which was subsequently made into a movie by Robert Redford, for whom Branaman was an invaluable source of information, and inspiration, during the production.

The film not only examines his rapport with horses — although a friend laughingly admits “I’ve never actually seen him whisper to a horse” — but also his troubled upbringing, which is no laughing matter; Brannaman’s father was a demanding, abusive alcoholic, and that Buck was able to overcome the cruel rigors of his childhood is an effective source of the film’s power.

Yet Buck is never heavy-handed. Like its subject, the film is easy-going, sympathetic and unpretentious. The film represents its subject very well indeed, the hallmark of a successful documentary. You get a genuine sense of who this man is, and what he’s been through. This isn’t so much a movie about horses as people.

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