The Rider

Empire (UK) - - ON SCREEN - He­len O’hara

★★★★ OUT 14 septem­ber CERT tbc / 104 mins

DI­REC­TOR Chloé Zhao

CAST Brady Jan­dreau, Tim Jan­dreau, Lilly Jan­dreau, Lane Scott, Cat Clif­ford

PLOT Brady Black­burn (Brady Jan­dreau) lives with his dad Wayne (Tim Jan­dreau) and sis­ter Lilly (Lilly Jan­dreau) in the Bad­lands of South Dakota. When a head in­jury threat­ens his rodeo ca­reer, Brady must de­cide whether to find a new way of life, or fight to get back to the rodeo.

Ev­ery­one knows about cowboys. one of the most mythol­o­gised fig­ures in hu­man his­tory, the cow­boy is a sym­bol of rugged in­di­vid­u­al­ism, un­com­pro­mis­ing mas­culin­ity and a type of tough­ness that deals, un­flinch­ingly, with what­ever na­ture throws at him. but what if he faces a chal­lenge that’s in­sur­mount­able? that’s the ques­tion in Chloe Zhao’s im­pres­sive sec­ond film, a small and deeply emo­tional tale set against the vast panorama of the west.

shot and set in south Dakota’s Lakota-sioux Pine ridge reser­va­tion, we meet brady black­burn (brady Jan­dreau) shortly af­ter his ca­reer as a rodeo rider has been stymied by a head in­jury. He’s left with a plate in his skull and a spasm in his hand, and doc­tors say that an­other fall could kill him. De­spite this, ev­ery­one in brady’s life — in­clud­ing the man him­self — ex­pects him to get back on the horse, lit­er­ally and fig­u­ra­tively.

the plot is based closely on Jan­dreau’s re­al­ity, as Zhao crafted a story around a real in­jury. His life­long friend Lane scott (play­ing him­self ) was also vic­tim to an even more dev­as­tat­ing wound to the head. yet the pair talk of lit­tle else but get­ting back to the rodeo. It’s how they de­fine them­selves: they are cowboys and that means, as an­other buddy puts it, that you “ride through the pain”.

but Zhao is more in­ter­ested in the pos­si­bil­ity that brady’s forced ex­ile from the sad­dle could prove per­ma­nent. what would that mean for his un­re­li­able fa­ther wayne (tim Jan­dreau) and autis­tic sis­ter Lilly (Lilly Jan­dreau), with their rent pay­ments due? where would it leave brady him­self? He faces ques­tions of how he de­fines him­self as a man, as a cow­boy, as a son, friend and provider.

brady gives an ex­tra­or­di­nary per­for­mance for an un­trained star, while his fam­ily and friends are sim­i­larly nat­u­ral­is­tic and en­gag­ing. but it’s Zhao who must take the lion’s share of the credit, for spot­ting the cin­e­matic po­ten­tial in Jan­dreau’s face, for shoot­ing her sub­jects so well that she gets great per­for­mances even from horses, and for keep­ing the story riv­et­ing even in word­less scenes. Zhao cap­tures the weight and al­most the smell of the rodeo horses, the dust hang­ing in the air and the wide prairies at magic hour. John Ford and ter­rence Mal­ick would be im­pressed.

not ev­ery­one will love it: much of brady’s an­guish is un­voiced, and his par­tic­u­lar pas­sion for rid­ing may leave some cold. but if you al­low your­self to be drawn in, there are mo­ments that will stick with you. brady’s con­nec­tion with his old horse, Gus, is pro­found, and it’s given glo­ri­ous ex­pres­sion by cin­e­matog­ra­pher Joshua James richards. storms hover over the hori­zon, but even as the sky dark­ens there are still cowboys to get back on the horse and ride off into the sun­set.

Ver­dict a thought­ful and thought­pro­vok­ing look at iden­tity, as­pi­ra­tion and a pre­car­i­ous way of life, this is an­chored by a stun­ning per­for­mance by Brady Jun­dreau and in­spired di­rec­tion by chloé Zhao.

Rider on the storm.

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