The Rider – Film Review by Frank L.
Director: Chloé Zhao
Writer: Chloé Zhao
Stars: Brady Jandreau, Mooney, Tim Jandreau
Chloé Zhao was born and brought up in Beijing until she was fourteen years old but has lived “all over” since, more recently in the United States. One community she has come to know is the Lakota Sioux of the Pine Ridge Reservation who live in Southern Dakota. She concentrates this story on one young rodeo rider. Riding wild horses is his dream. The film begins with this young cowboy removing staples from a serious head wound which he has suffered in a rodeo and has left one of his hands subject to seizure. He is a damaged young man.
In the film Brady Blackburn (Brady Jandreau) is the young cowboy. He lives with his uncompromising father Wayne Blackburn (Tim Jandreau), his mother having died. His younger sister Lilly Blackburn (Lilly Jandreau) is his soul mate eventhough her mental limitations are such that she needs a certain amount of sheltering. In real life, these three actors in the film are father, son and daughter but none of them are trained actors. The fourth principal character is Lane Scott who also plays himself. He was a bull rodeo rider but as a result of an accident he is now confined to a wheelchair unable to speak but can communicate by outlining shakily the letters which make up a word. He is Brady’s hero. The performances of all four is one of the many strengths of this film.
Because of the head wound which he has suffered, the film is about Brady coming to terms with his new reality. He is a young man with an innate gift with horses which is exemplified in a stunning sequence when he is asked to look at an unmanageable young horse. His murmurings, petting and stroking this violent creature gradually give the horse the confidence to let Brady get closer to him, to permit Brady to lie across his back and then to allow Brady throw his leg over his back and sit astride him. Here is a master of his craft doing what he does best. To get to know a wild horse so that the horse succumbs to his will.
The director of photography, Joshua James Richards, reveals much about Brady by close ups of his face either in moments of repose or being physically active. He reveals the essence of Brady and the difficulties he faces now that the medical advice is that he must not ride. The tough men who populate this sparse and unforgiving landscape he also portrays intelligently and his photography of the vastness of the landscape and its harshness add to the hardness of the life that Brady and his family live.
Zhao has created a magnificent film. It is a machismo film of the West created by a woman whose cultural roots are in the East. Maybe it is this juxtaposition which enabled Zhao to avoid cliches. But she also reveals Brady’s dreams. Her innate intelligence has enabled her to reveal the essence of Brady and his family with a clarity of vision. She tells as it is without any guile. It is a delight.