The Rider

rider_xlgDirected by Chinese-American filmmaker Chloé Zhao in her second feature film, The Rider is a powerfully emotional movie about the struggles of a young rodeo star in the American West; it is notable for its beautiful cinematography and sublime acting performances from nonprofessional actors. Partially based on the lead actor’s own life, the heartbreaking story follows Brady Blackburn, played by the terrific newcomer Brady Jandreau, after he is involved in a horrific horse riding accident in which he suffers a traumatic brain injury that sidelines him from his promising rodeo career. The film is a rather depressing metaphor for the economically depressed working-class American living in the rural West but has a hopeful message: continue to make a life for oneself even after the loss of one’s dreams. Set on South Dakota’s Lakota-Sioux Pine Ridge Reservation, Brady is of Native American heritage and must overcome the difficulties of living on an impoverished Indian reservation while coping with his debilitating injury that prevents him from doing the only thing he knows, riding and training horses. The filmmaker lends an important degree of realism by casting real life former cowboys and rodeo stars like Brady and his severely disabled real-life friend Lane Scott as well as Brady’s real father Tim Jandreau and his intellectually impaired younger sister Lilly Jandreau who play the character Brady’s tough father and endearing sister. Over the course of the film, Brady stubbornly tries to get back on horses and attempt a comeback on the rodeo circuit riding bucking broncos despite the serious medical implications. It is a rather simple yet evocative movie that is more of a meditation on life in the American West by presenting quiet scenes around the campfire or riding horses surrounded by breathtaking Western landscapes in which the characters, particularly Brady, contemplate life and their future dreams. Besides its Western themes, the filmmaker subtly addresses the challenges experienced by those with disabilities and how they cope with their new lives; I was surprised by how many characters suffered from an impairment, including the brain injured Brady, Brady’s paralyzed friend Lane, an older amputee cowboy, and the mentally challenged Lilly. Overall, I found it to be one of the more poignant and deeply contemplative cinematic treatments of the realities of living in the impoverished American West, especially those in the dangerous rodeo world.

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