Directed by: Chloé Zhao
Premise: A rodeo cowboy (Brady Jandreau) suffers a career-ending skull injury. He struggles to decide what to do next when everything he knows has been taken away from him.
What Works: The Rider is the story of a man grappling with his manhood and with his sense of self. As cerebral as that might sound, The Rider is never pretentious. This is a very physical and grounded movie that has a lot of drama without sentimentality. Brady, played by Brady Jandreau, is a part of the masculine world of rodeo. The film opens with Brady recovering from a skull fracture. This is the end of Brady’s career in rodeo but his entire life is built around that culture. It is inextricable from who he is and Brady struggles to reconcile his injury with his sense of self. Although the world of cowboys and rodeos is quite macho Brady himself is much more nuanced. He’s outwardly very masculine but he’s not a caricature. Brady has a complex interior life and that’s evident throughout the film. The world he lives in doesn’t make it any easier for him to move on. His family and friends are rooted in this world and The Rider dramatizes the extent to which we depend upon other people and on our communities to give us a sense of purpose and identity. But the film also recognizes the inherent danger of the rodeo world. Brady often visits another former rider who is now permanently brain damaged due to a riding accident and the tension in the film is largely found in whether or not Brady will follow his passion for rodeo to the same fate. In that respect it’s notable how this film portrays people with mental disabilities; Lane Scott plays the now paralyzed former rider and he is in fact playing himself, having suffered his own rodeo accident in real life. The movie doesn’t pity the disabled characters nor does it gloss over the difficulties of their lives; they come across as people with their own needs and personalities. The Rider is an example of successful stunt casting. Many of the major players in the film are not professional actors. Brady Jandreau plays a fictionalized version of himself, and the roles of Brady’s father and sister are played by his real life family members Tim and Lilly Jandreau. Stunt casting doesn’t always work. It can go spectacularly wrong—as it did in The 15:17 to Paris—but it works here and gives The Rider a feel of authenticity. That’s one of the other outstanding qualities of this film. The Rider has a vivid sense of place and beautifully photographs the western setting while also capturing the harshness of the land.
What Doesn’t: The story of The Rider stops short of fully sorting out Brady’s problem. The film concludes in a way that brings the central issue to a head but it also leaves us wondering what will come next. Brady and his family live in poverty and those struggles remain at the film’s end. The ambiguity is what makes the ending of this film so impactful and it’s the right conclusion for this story. But nevertheless, The Rider does introduce a number of conflicts and issues without resolving them and some viewers might crave more closure.
DVD extras: Deleted scenes, interviews.
Bottom Line: The Rider is a beautifully made film that takes the audience into its world of cowboys and rodeos in a way that is immersive and authentic. The performers are natural and complex and the film matches its gritty authenticity with a thoughtful take on its subject matter.
Episode: #730 (December 23, 2018)