'The Rider' stuns with an honest look into life after injury
Filmmakers have always glorified men who live life in pursuit of a single goal. From Charles Kane’s final utterance of “Rosebud” in “Citizen Kane” to more recent films like “Whiplash” where the protagonist is dead-set on becoming the greatest drummer to ever live, suffering through endless abuse from his instructor along the way.
Chloé Zhao’s most recent film “The Rider” continues this tradition in a heartfelt manner. Suffering a debilitating injury at a rodeo, Brady Blackburn (Brady Jandreau) learns that he may never ride a horse again, at least not without the risk of serious brain injury or death. This, paired with his father’s (Tim Jandreau) drinking and gambling problem, forces Brady to find a new way of make a living on a South Dakota Sioux reservation.
What is immediately interesting about “The Rider” is that the family members at the center of the film are playing themselves and Brady Jandreau actually suffered a rodeo injury in real life. With the exception of Tim Jandreau, the family’s first names are the same with only their surname being replaced. Given the cast of first-time actors, the true story at the heart of the film is all the more engaging.
While casting a bunch of first-time actors comes with risks, the execution could not have been more effective. Going into the film knowing that this is a real story using a real family as the cast allows the viewer to invest so much more into the characters.
Another element that makes this film stand out is the fact that the majority of the characters have some physical injury or mental difference. Brady’s skull was split open following a rodeo injury, his sister Lilly (Lilly Jandreau) is autistic and his friend and role model Lane Scott’s entire body is paralyzed, also due to a rodeo accident.
During his visits to Lane, we see Brady’s true emotional arsenal during this extremely understated movie. The expressions that cross his face during these visits range anywhere from deep sadness to determination; Brady sees what their shared love has done to Lane, but the more he visits him he realizes that he doesn’t want to give up the rodeo despite the risk.
The conflict of the film hinges entirely on passion versus responsibility. Given his father’s shortcomings, the responsibility to care for Brady’s sister falls almost entirely on him. His interactions with Lilly are as emotionally provocative as the ones with Lane. Something that comes through with these performances are the real relationships behind them. It becomes clear throughout the film that there is rarely any acting at all, rather these feelings are authentic.
“The Rider” is a film about duty, and what exactly that entails for someone who has lost who they are. Brady is forced to reckon with the idea that he may have to give up an important piece of himself, but his hunger for the saddle keeps beckoning him back. The choice that he makes at the end of the film is reflective of his family, his friends, and his home; for better or for worse.
“The Rider” was released in D.C. on Friday, April 20.
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