Published Apr 25, 2018In her second feature, The Rider, Chloé Zhao confirms her penchant for both the visually stunning and the deeply human. The Rider begins shortly after Brady Blackburn (Brady Jandreau) gets injured in the rodeo. He slowly removes bandages from his head, revealing a haunting image of staples running across his skull. Faced with this new injury, Brady must step back from his life as a rising rodeo star, and come to terms with what it means to live without the activity that gave his life meaning.
The film immerses the viewer in Brady's life on the Pine Ridge Reservation, and his painful struggle. While his doctor outlines the risks in not taking the time to let himself heal, his friends encourage him to "cowboy up" and continue to participate. This all happens against a backdrop of financial struggle, as his father falls short of being able to pay the bills. Brady has to cope with his horse Gus being sold, and begins working in a grocery store in order to help pay rent. His internal conflict, and sense of loss, is palpable.
Perhaps a factor in the intensity of the performance is that the film's narrative is based on Jandreau's own story; thus, the film occupies an interesting space between fiction and nonfiction. His relationship with his dad Tim (Tim Jandreau) and sister Lilly (Lilly Jandreau), played by his real life dad and sister, hint at complicated, rich relationships that extend far beyond what's shown on screen. Friends in the film are also not professional actors, but individuals playing versions of themselves. Brady visits his friend Lane (Lane Scott) in the hospital, who was paralyzed after his own accident. Watching old rodeo videos and helping Lane with physical therapy, they exude a quiet strength and resilience more than self-pity.
From breathtaking cinematic landscapes, to a deep connection with horses, Zhao succeeds in capturing a story of the badlands far beyond the cliches of gun-toting cowboys of wild west.