Brady Blackburn, a rodeo bronc rider with some renown, learned everything he knows about horses and riding from his parents, Wayne and the now deceased Mari Blackburn. Brady is recovering from a fall off a bronking horse in a rodeo, the most serious of the injuries being a skull fracture which required a metal plate being inserted into his head. Including checking himself out of the hospital earlier than advised, Brady is determined to get back up onto the literal and proverbial horse as quickly as possible as being a cowboy is all he knows. But deep in his heart he knows that returning to the rodeo in particular is something that is probably not in the cards without increased risks, which is eventually confirmed by his doctor who tells him that he cannot sustain another serious head injury without some major consequence. He does not even want his friends and family to treat him with kid gloves in being able to do any of those physical activities which are part and parcel for him of being a man and a cowboy. Brady has to come to some realization as to this fact and come to terms with it - which is difficult even as his best friend, former rodeo rider Lane Scott will forever be institutionalized needing around the clock medical care from a similar accident - or end up killing himself physically the the attempt to bronc again, or killing himself emotionally in not being able to do what he loves.
Brady Jandreau (Brady Blackburn), Tim Jandreau (Wayne Blackburn), Lilly Jandreau (Lilly Blackburn), Cat Clifford (Cat Clifford), Terri Dawn Pourier (Terri Dawn Pourier), Lane Scott (Lane Scott), Tanner Langdeau (Tanner Langdeau), James Calhoon (James Calhoon), Derrick Janis (Victor Chasing Hawk), Greg Barber (Bar Owner), Marshal Byrne, Steven DeWolfe (Fourth Rodeo Cowboy), Kevin Hunter, Leroy Pourier (Frank), Allen Reddy, Jordon Slick Phelps, Frank Steele (Miles), Donnie Whirlwind Horse, Cameron Wright
Chloé Zhao (written by)
Dickey Abedon (executive producer), Mollye Asher (producer), Sacha Ben Harroche (producer), Anastasia M. Cummings (associate producer), Corentin De Saedeleer (executive producer post production), Bert Hamelinck (producer), Mike Newman (line producer), Hannah Reyer (associate producer), Michael Sagol (executive producer), Daniel Sbrega (executive producer)...
I was infatuated back in 1971/72 with Hollywood' brief but productive dalliance with the Rodeo film genre, of which Steve Ihnat's "The Honkers" was my favorite alongside the far-better publicized "Junior Bonner", "When the Legends Die" (the closest one to "The Rider") and "J.W. Coop". Chinese director Chloe Zhao takes a neo-Realist stab at the format with this affecting, strong and experimental film.
Unlike Clint Eastwood's unsuccessful recent film where he had the American heroes of the French railway terrorist incident play themselves on screen, Chloe has recruited real-life Native Americans from the South Dakota rodeo milieu to play fictional characters close enough to their real-life personae to establish an immediate and realistic connection. Rodeo has long been a metaphor for Western movie themes, especially those end of an era notions favored by Western masters Sam Peckinpah and John Ford, and here Zhao takes the concept one step further by having these modern day cowboys personified by Native Americans of the Lakota tribe whose culture was effectively destroyed by us "Americans", including the cowboys of old.
The central protagonist Brady has a face and utterly stoic demeanor the camera loves - a Bronson figure who happens to have the handsome features of a Channing Tatum, but never hitting a false note. His dilemma recalls the Greek myth of Sysiphus, rolling that boulder up the hill only to have it roll back down endlessly, accomplishing nothing. But the difference here is that although he cannot recover from the rodeo accident which renders him unfit to ride anymore (actually, in real-life Brady was injured in a car accident, not from rodeo performance) he is presented as a brilliant horse whisperer, adding great depth and panache to the movie.
His best friend Lance, crippled from rodeo, offers the moving sentimentality that Chloe otherwise scrupulously avoids in her filmmaking, using spectacular visual imagery to give the movie a strength that mere documentary technique wouldn't allow. Subsidiary characters like Brady's autistic sister and stern, incapable of expressing his love dad, are potent real-life people rather than Hollywood constructs, though many a character actor would leap at the chance to play these roles.
As I watched the movie I thought of many Sports-related pictures that had covered similar ground, perhaps more intellectually and that achieved classic status. Certainly Brando in Kazan's "On the Waterfront" as the boxer who "coulda been a contender" presents a mirror image to Brady's hero, though their acting styles are diametrically opposed. Kurosawa's "Dersu Uzala" is the most brilliant of these movies (but not about sports) of a strong spirit overcoming physical hardship, and I was somewhat surprised that director Zhao chose to make the character's Native American background so subtle in terms of her screenplay, as opposed to Kurosawa in a Russian movie emphasizing the outsider nature of Dersu the Siberian hunter from an ethnic minority. Perhaps it is the lack of a stronger, more universal theme as developed in the Kazan and Kurosawa films that prevents "The Rider" from ascending to all-time classic status. But it is still a wonderful movie.
Writer and director Chloé Zhao first met Brady Jandreau during her research for her earlier film, Songs My Brothers Taught Me (2015). She visited the ranch where Jandreau was working and he was teaching her how to ride a horse. She wanted to put him in one of her films, and when he had the accident that left him with life changing head injuries, she decided to base the script for her next film on his story.
13 wins & 13 nominations
Athens International Film Festival • Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema • Cannes Film Festival • Cinema Eye Honors Awards, US • Deauville Film Festival • Film Independent Spirit Awards • Hamburg Film Festival • Indiewire Critics' Poll • International Cinephile Society Awards • Istanbul International Film Festival • Newcastle International Film Festival • Palm Springs International Film Festival • Portland International Film Festival • Reykjavik International Film Festival • Sarasota Film Festival • Stockholm Film Festival • SXSW Film Festival • Valladolid International Film Festival
Le cowboy (Canada (French title)) • The Rider (Germany) • Καλπάζοντας με το όνειρο (Greece) • A rodeós (Hungary) • Ha'rokhev (Israel (Hebrew title)) • Jahač (Serbia)
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