ITOL Top 50 Films of the Decade, Entry No. 24: The Rider

Year: 2017

Runtime: 104 Minutes

Director: Chloé Zhao

Writer: Chloé Zhao

Stars: Brady Jandreau, Mooney, Tim Jandreau, Lilly Jandreau

By Simon Whitlock

“Ride through the pain.” Is there any sentence which so fully defines the John Wayne cowboy brand of masculinity? At once a declaration of defiant intent to overcome any adversity, yet also a statement which betrays a stubbornness to stop and live and learn from failure, to the point where simply “riding through the pain” could have catastrophic ramifications.

What She Said:

“Brady, rarely raising his voice above a murmur, takes us on an emotional journey, figuring out his own way forward. The plains go on forever; so, we hope, does hope.”

Moira MacDonald, Seattle Times

“The Rider”, the second feature from writer-director Chloé Zhao, explores this tenet of masculinity through the story of South Dakotan rodeo cowboy Brady Blackburn, played by real-life rodeo cowboy Brady Jandreau. Blackburn’s story mirrors that of Jandreau, both of whom were taken out of the saddle unexpectedly, after sustaining a major injury in a horrific accident. As he recovers, Brady is advised that he can never ride again, or else he could risk losing his life.

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Riding horses is all that Brady knows, and his adeptness on the saddle has not only come to define who he is as a person, but prior to his accident his riding was providing for his family. Without horses, what then is Brady worth?

Of course neither Brady nor his family expect his condition to mean a permanent end to his career as a rider, but as his condition lingers and the Blackburn family find themselves in dire financial straits, the tension between him and his father Wayne (played by Jandreau’s real father, Tim Jandreau) builds to boiling point.

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Brady’s relationships with his male family and peers makes up a substantial amount of “The Rider”’s runtime, most notably and poignantly with his friend Lane Scott: another former rider playing himself, whose own accident has left him paralysed and unable to speak. Lane’s condition is a constant reminder of the path Brady is doomed to follow if he continues to ride after what happened, yet even in Lane’s own advanced injury, there’s still a stubborn optimism shared between them, of returning to the saddle and to their former glories.

What She Said:

“Chloé Zhao’s The Rider serves as a testament for why making the extra effort to tell underrepresented stories matters.”

Mimi Wong, Mediaversity Reviews

Twitter: @whoismims

Where other, more established filmmakers had failed spectacularly in casting real people in their films – Clint Eastwood’s “The 15:17 to Paris” is a prime example from the last few years – Zhao’s decision to use real people to tell this story absolutely pays off. Brady Jandreau is a natural in front of the camera, and for all of the stunning beauty that the South Dakota landscape has to offer, Zhao’s writing and direction keeps Jandreau firmly front and centre throughout the film.

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With “The Rider”, Zhao manages to find a fine balance between documentary and dramatisation with Jandreau’s story, and she keeps a careful distance to be able to explore the stakes surrounding Brady’s predicament, and the dangerous consequences of following through with ill-considered plans dripping in cowboy machismo.

What She Said:

“Bold, heartfelt and, most importantly, unafraid, this is a remarkable film.”

Linda Marric, HeyUGuys

Twitter: @Linda_Marric

Along with her impressive debut with “Songs My Brothers Taught Me”, “The Rider” proves that Zhao will be a directorial force to be reckoned with. Her skill in connecting with her story’s subjects on an intimate level and converting that into something truly cinematic, makes for a very special viewing experience, and one which deserves to be discovered and rediscovered for years to come.

The Extra Bits:

Where to watch:

Amazon: Rent & Buy

BFI Player: Rent

iTunes: Rent & Buy

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