Review: The Rider (2017)

The Rider (2017)

Directed by: Chloe Zhao | 103 minutes | drama | Actors: Brady Jandreau, Tim Jandreau, Lilly Jandreau, Cat Clifford, Terri Dawn Pourier, Lane Scott, Tanner Langdeau, James Calhoon, Derrick Janis, Greg Barber, Steven DeWolfe, Leroy Pourier, Frank Steele

Rodeo performer Brady Blackburn lives with his father and autistic sister in a freestanding trailer in South Dakota. In a landscape of mountains, prairie, meandering rivers, green hills, in short: in authentic cowboy country. Native American Brady, like his father and friends, is a true horse man, riding a horse with the same ease as he tames or trains it. But the rodeo is rough and one day Brady lands hard on his head. As a horse, he was instantly put out of his misery, but Brady is not a horse. Once awake from his coma, he therefore manfully tries to pick up something from his old life.

And that’s where Chloé Zhao’s beautiful American arthouse drama ‘The Rider’ begins. Shot in a tranquil documentary style, in this case unavoidable because the protagonists act out a dramatized version of their own lives (similar to the Dutch circus drama ‘Calimucho’ from 2008). Inventive, that’s for sure, with the only drawback that the amateur actors are sometimes a little too aware of the film crew. And sometimes the dialogues sound a bit too much.

With that we are immediately complained because ‘The Rider’ has nothing but good to offer. We end up in the unknown world of the professional horse person. We see fascinating and (of course) authentic images of the taming of a wild horse, we join the rodeo boys on a campfire outing and we visit the unfortunate rodeo hero Lane, who is just short of a greenhouse plant after a car accident. This leads to heartbreaking scenes between Brady and Lane, two tough men who saw their dream shatter.

There are more heartbreaking scenes in ‘The Rider’ and the film also has a strong theme in (not being able to) let go of dreams and desires. Sometimes portrayed too literally – Brady has a neurological problem that prevents him from loosening his grip (for example on a lead) – but fascinating and universal. In addition, we fully enjoy the natural beauty of South Dakota.

With the calm and compelling ‘The Rider’ we end up in a world where emotions never run high, but the suffering is marked on the beautiful headlines. Where the autistic Lily, cheerfully singing and chattering, unwittingly keeps things together. Where Native American horsemen dream about things that are past and things that are to come. And where life is as hard as it is horribly beautiful.

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