THE RIDER (2018)


 Greetings again from the darkness. Sometimes the universe creates its own balance. Watching this little independent gem the day before watching the new Avengers movie reinforces what a diverse art form the cinema provides. Writer/director Chloe Zhao continues to make her presence felt as a filmmaker, and movie lovers are the beneficiaries.

While filming her feature film debut SONGS MY BROTHER TAUGHT ME on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota in 2015, Ms. Zhao met Brady Jandreau, a rising young star on the rodeo circuit. She knew a movie was in their future, but it wasn’t until the following year when the story wrote itself. Brady suffered a severe head injury after being bucked by a bronco. He was in a coma for 3 days, and a metal plate was screwed into his skull. Doctors warned Brady that riding a horse again could kill him.

This is not a documentary, but it’s pretty darn close. Brady Jandreau plays Brady Blackburn, a rodeo bronco rider and horse trainer who is recovering from a severe head injury. Mr. Landreau’s real father Tim and sister Lilly also appear as themselves. In fact, most of the characters are locals rather than actors, and many (including the Jandreaus) are part of the Oglala Lakota Sioux tribe on the reservation. Also playing himself is Lane Scott, Brady’s best friend who is now paralyzed and unable to speak – the tragic result of another rodeo ride gone wrong. These two are like brothers, and their interactions provide some of the most emotional moments in the movie.

The film is more cycle of life, than circle of life. It’s about having a lifelong dream snatched from your clutches. We follow Brady as he searches for his new place in life. Campfire confessions with his rodeo buddies portray the bond created by risking life and limb. His mother is dead, and Brady’s dad has spent a lifetime telling him to “cowboy up” – meaning, be a man and fight through every situation. Now dad is telling him to “let it go” and “move on”. This contradicts his friends who encourage him to not give up on his dream.

Brady’s moments with his sister Lilly are some of the sweetest and most poignant. Despite her autism, Lilly is precious as she sings songs and offers clear insight to her brother. This is less about acting and more about being. Guns, horses, and pot play significant roles throughout, as does the stunning South Dakota landscape as photographed by cinematographer Joshua James Richards. The intimacy of Brady’s internal struggle somehow dwarfs the breathtaking sunsets. His quietly simmering intensity is masked by a stone face that only seems to brighten when around friend Lane, sister Lilly, or training yet another “unbreakable” horse.

Rather than traditional story arc, this is simply a compelling way of life for people who put up no false fronts. Brady is trying to figure out how to be a man after life has stolen his dream. One’s purpose is essential to one’s being, and thanks to filmmaker Zhao we witness how one tough cowboy fights through.

watch the trailer:

4 Responses to THE RIDER (2018)

  1. This one sounds quite good. Thanks so much for bringing it to my To Watch list.

  2. I just happened om your work in reviewing movies. I am wondering why I cannot find the ratings given to the movies you review. cam you let me know whether I just missed them or whether you purposely omit them?
    GJ Neumann
    Author of Christian Books
    george@sunburstmail.com

    • Hi George, yours is a good question and my answer may not help much. I made the decision many years ago to make this site a place for my observations on movies, rather than a place to “grade” or “rank” them. I even struggle with that at year end when I put together my favorites from the previous year. My perspective on movies is that they entertain or educate – or maybe they are an escape or a way to focus on something besides real life for a couple of hours. I’ve just found that I prefer discussing how a movie impacts people in different ways. Most of the time, the reviews will give a pretty good indication on whether I “liked” a movie, but with most movies, I do tend to find something I can appreciate … maybe an actor’s performance, or the way a scene was written, or even how a particular sequence was photographed. I’m not sure this is a great answer to your question, but hopefully you understand where I’m coming from. Thanks for the note.

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