Directed by: Chloé 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 artist Brady Blackburn lives with his father and autistic sister in a free-standing 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 horseman, riding a horse with the same ease as taming or training it. But the rodeo is a rough affair and one day Brady lands hard on the head. As a horse he was immediately put out of his misery, but Brady is not a horse. Once awakened from his coma, he courageously tries to pick up something from his old life.
And that is where Chloé Zhao’s wonderful American drama drama “The Rider” begins. Shot in hushed documentary style, in this case inevitable because the protagonists act out a dramatized version of their own lives (comparable to the Dutch circus drama “Calimucho” from 2008). Inventive, certainly, 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.
We were immediately sued because “The Rider” has nothing but good to offer. We end up in the unknown world of the professional horse man. 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, which, after a car accident, is just not a greenhouse plant. This leads to heartbreaking scenes between Brady and Lane, two tough men who saw their dreams explode.
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 too literally portrayed – Brady has a neurological problem that prevents him from loosening his grip (around a lead, for example) – but it is 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 heads. Where the autistic Lily, singing and chattering happily, keeps everything together unknowingly. Where Native American horsemen dream about things that are over and things that must someday come. And where life is as hard as it is incredibly beautiful.