May 14

“The Rider” Is Realer Than Most

…a neo-Western about rodeo riding, hobbled masculinity and reflective grace that feels unlike anything else out there. Robert Abele, The Wrap, regarding The Rider

Brady’s life’s work may kill him; a life without it may kill him more slowly. Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune, regarding the main character

Following is an introduction to Chloe Zhao‘s The Rider by Michael Phillips, who’s for certain not the only critic who revels in its awesomeness. Not an actor by profession, Brady Jandreau plays a version of his real self, a member of the Lakota tribe who experienced a severe head injury while riding rodeo:

Brady lives at home with his father, a taciturn denizen of the bars and casino poker stools, and his 15-year-old sister, a vibrant spirit living with Asperger’s syndrome. They’re played by Jandreau’s real-life father and sister; Brady’s friends are played by his real friends.

The story follows a clear throughline, concerning how hard it is to give up the most important thing in your life. Brady tries to ignore his calling, on doctor’s orders; one more head injury could kill him…Brady tries to adjust to a new, tamer routine, working various jobs at a supermarket and settling for training his friends how to last eight seconds in the ring. His best friend, Lane (played with fierce resolve by Lane Scott), is paralyzed from a rodeo fall. He is living proof of the dangers of this life.

Both the acting and the scenery have received much praise. Chandler Levack, Globe and Mail: “Jandreau, acting opposite his real-life family members and friends, disappears into a role largely based on his own experiences, oozing empathy from his pores. The beautiful cinematography captures the story in striking, magic-hour landscapes and vistas of South Dakota.”

Godfrey Cheshire, rogerebert.com: “The best American movie this critic has seen in the past year…the kind of rare work that seems to attain greatness through an almost alchemical fusion of nominal opposites…so fact-based that it almost qualifies as a documentary. Yet the film’s style, its sense of light and landscape and mood, simultaneously give it the mesmerizing force of the most confident cinematic poetry.”

The Trailer

Various Themes Addressed

David Sims, The Atlantic:

In the cruelest irony, the brain damage has given rise to a strange symptom: One of Brady’s hands sometimes locks into a clenched fist, physically unable to let go of whatever he’s holding onto.

It’s the one metaphor The Rider’s writer and director, Chloé Zhao, allows herself.

Bilge Ebiri, Village Voice:

Barely in his early twenties, Brady is caught between the duties of manhood and a child’s helplessness…

Dad has instilled a macho code in his son, but now wants him to stand down from the fight of his life. ‘What happened to cowboy up, grit your teeth? What happened to all that, dad?’ Brady asks, and the older man has no response. Neither do we; the movies — especially westerns — traffic in myths of physical bravery and freedom. The Rider is, in part, a deconstruction of such myths.

Godfrey Cheshire, rogerebert.com: “One of the film’s chief virtues lies in its crafting a portrait of lower-class working Americans without the slightest touch of condescension.”