Brady Blackburn (Brady Jandreau) had a promising future as a champion rodeo bronco rider. Then, during his last competition, he is thrown from his horse and suffers a life-threatening head injury. He is told by his doctor that his career is over and he can never ride a rodeo again in “The Rider.”
Laura's Review: B+
Brady Blackburn (Brady Jandreau) is an up and coming rodeo star when he's thrown from a bronco, the horse smashing through his skull. Recovering from the surgery to put a metal plate in his head, Brady tries to find a new life on South Dakota's Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. With his dad's gambling putting their trailer home in jeopardy, Brady, whose doctor has decreed 'no riding,' finds employment at DakotaMart and piecemeal jobs training horses, but he believes his purpose is on the back of a horse in "The Rider." When writer/director Chloé Zhao ("Songs My Brothers Taught Me") was making her first movie, she became enchanted with the Lakota cowboys living in the area and cast some of them in supporting roles. In 2015, she met Brady, a member of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, and in 2016, after his accident, Brady said something to Chloé which spawned this wondrous docudrama. Although it debuted at 2017's Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Directors’ Fortnight Art Cinema Award, this is the type of regional filmmaking that used to be a staple of the Sundance Film Festival back in the day. Brady is, in essence, searching for what it means to be a man. He is devoted to his younger, special needs sister Lilly (Lilly Jandreau), whose Asperger's Syndrome has stunted her emotional development, attacking a friend who's dared to twirl her about on a bar stool. He visits his mother's grave out on the plains. He curries Gus, the big veiny white steed he's loved for years. We can deduce his relationship with his friends has changed since his accident, cautiously sidestepping their macho lingo and carefree bravado. 'Your brain's a little different from your ribs,' he tells one who's urged him back into the saddle. There is great admiration for one of their own, their comments designating Lane (Lane Scott) to legendary status, but when Brady goes to visit his best friend, we're in for a shock. Lane is confined to a wheelchair in a medical facility, unable to speak, a tube protruding from his abdomen. Brady treats him with caring respect, sitting down to watch old VHS tapes of his friend's glory days as an eighteen year-old local rodeo star and ladies man. Brady's love for his friend is palpable. Brady's world is shaken again when he finds his father Wayne (Tim Jandreau) discussing Gus with another cowboy. The horse has been sold to pay down debts. Devastated, Brady gets up in the purplish pre-dawn light to say goodbye and he cannot resist mounting the steed one last time. We see Brady's world through his eyes, cinematographer Joshua James Richards ("God's Own Country") placing his camera behind the horse's head as it traverses the wide open land. Zhao closes the idyll with a shot of Brady's saddle sitting on the ground. On a job with Wayne, Brady notes a new horse tethered in a pen. No one's been able to break Apollo, he's told. As we've just witnessed Brady miraculously gain the trust of another unbreakable horse, we know the challenge is irresistible, but the young man cannot bring himself to pawn his saddle for the steed. Wayne surprises him and soon Brady's riding Apollo, but his doctor's words echo in our heads when he has to manually unfold his clenched fist to take the reins, then dismount to vomit. Zhao's beautiful film transports us to a world known by few, the romance of the American West as seen through the eyes of a young Native American respectful of the land, its creatures and everyone around him. But Brady's world is also one of tragedy and hardship, biological fragility taking its toll not only on Brady but those he loves, changing times curtailing his options. This man who evokes both the Marlboro man with his Stetson and roll-your-owns and the lonely decency of "Certain Women's" Lily Gladstone faces yet another loss and comes to a conclusion about God given purpose. If a horse is put down because it can no longer run, why should he, as a cowboy, continue to live if he cannot ride? I was conflicted over the film's ending, Brady embracing the romance of the past over the present responsibilities he's been man enough to accept. Still, we understand him, the beauty of his world undeniable. Grade:
Robin's Review: B+
I knew little about writer-director Chloe Zhao’s second film – just that it is about a rodeo rider whose short career is at an end. I was not prepared for an honest and realistic character study by a real-life bronco buster whose career came to an end because of a life-threatening head injury. Brady Jandreau is a natural actor and makes a striking big screen debut. The story is loosely biographical and the Jandreau family (dad, Tim, and sister, Lilly) and friends are the players in this tale of a young man at the crossroads of life. All involved are a part of the rodeo culture and the filmmakers deftly immerse the viewer into their world. As Brady wrestles with the sudden changes in his fortune, we get an in-depth view into the life of ranchers and rodeo riders. Jandreau proves to be a genuine horse-whisperer, shown perfectly as we watch two extended sequences where trains difficult horses. These scenes are of simple beauty and are mesmerizing to watch. Another big plus in Zhao’s sophomore feature is the stunning photography by Joshua James Richards. Sure, the stark beauty of the South Dakota Badlands is an easy thing to capture. But, here, it is an integral part of the whole film. The majestic landscapes, up close and jarring rodeo action and the overall look of “The Rider” are superbly rendered. “The Rider” could be, if I did not know better, an honest documentary about the life of a rodeo rider. That is high praise and says that Chloe Zhao is a young filmmaker to keep an eye on. Brady Jandreau, too, is one to watch.