The Rider (TBC)

Feb 13, 2019
Cranbrook Film Society

After suffering a near fatal head injury, young cowboy Brady is told to give up rodeo. But Brady needs to support his family, and the sport is his passion and his lifeline. An authentic docu-drama portrait of the American badlands and study of contemporary masculinity, shot without glorification or judgement.

Chloé Zhao | USA | 2017 | 104 mins | TBC


The rider is a rare breed, a fictional documentary. Chinese American Chloe Zhao has dramatized a largely true story starring the original participants set in their own homeland and the result is a lyrical portrayal of real life that could have been fiction.
This is Zhao’s second feature film and is set in the Badlands of South Dakota starring Lakota Sioux bronco and rodeo riders as they go about their tough business of surviving. Written, produced, and directed by a Chinese woman this is an almost anthropological take on what it is to be an American male in a quasi- tribal society. In its objective approach to custom and social priorities it has more in common with “Tanna “or “Eagle Huntress”.
Zhao casts real people, not actors, and lets them tell their own stories. Brady Jandreau plays the seriously injured Brady “Blackburn”, and Zhao even uses the real footage of his horrendous injury at a rodeo. These are real cowboys, brutal rodeos and ugly injuries but there are also mesmerizing moments of beauty as when Brady gently demonstrates breaking in a horse. These small people have hard lives pitched against the epic, brooding landscape of the Badlands, photographed, and exquisitely lit by James Joshua Richards. Here, unlike “Florida Project’s” world of tawdry dreams live heroes, and laconic nobility, understated and facing an environment of hostile natural indifference. “Cowboy up, grit your teeth, be a man”.
The film’s narrative drive is sustained by Brady’s need to conquer his injuries and get back in the saddle. “Get off your horse and drink your milk”, it isn’t…his is a vomiting, fitting, visceral struggle against unglamorous odds.
For all that, this is not some John Wayne machismo scenario. Women, particularly Brady’s dead mother and autistic sister are presiding influences as is the Native American lady at the Lakota job centre. Kindness plays a big part in this impassive landscape…the relationship between Brady and his hospitalized, brain-damaged best friend is practical and unsentimental.
The film’s unflinching portrayal of the sometimes harsh and exploitative treatment of horses and cattle may upset sensitive souls but the relationship is mutually respectful: several human beings were very seriously injured in the making of this deeply effective little film…that’s life. “You can only play with the cards you are dealt.”
P Bret-Day


            Weighted vote 93.2%