THE RIDER [2017]

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The Rider is a western that offers the opposite attitude from most alpha -male, macho- driven Westerns, and indeed some today’s of society itself. The attitude of pushing through pain, never thinking about quitting despite drastic circumstances. You aren’t a man if you don’t saddle up.

Brady (real rodeo-rider Brady Blackburn) suffered a severe head injury resulting from a rodeo accident, and after being stitched up, he ‘escapes’ hospital. This seems to be related to the above culture surrounding his life within the horse riding/rodeo circuit and the area in which he lives. The quiet, opening moments of the film depicting the depression he is feeling tell us that despite the impulse to easily escape hospital, the temptation of getting back into the saddle will be a difficult situation to deal with.

Brady’s position forces himself to evaluate his life moving forward. This is influenced by an early scene around a campfire with fellow rodeo rider friends, as he tells of how he was stomped in the head by the horse and the resulting trauma that it caused, ending with him in a coma. After finishing his brief recollection of nearing dying in the hospital, his friends smile as the group begin to trade how many injuries/concussions each have had – they are badges of honour here. It is the perfect scene, and short, to outline the attitude of his fellow riders without telling us overtly.

One rider tells of a time where Brady told him to push through the pain of a rib injury, to keep riding no matter the cost. Awkwardness follows and he Brady, asking if he’ll let his passion slip away just because his head hurts. This is not the first time his masculinity is challenged as this is an environment where that attitude is expected, is seen as necessary, from adult males, especially around the rodeo circuit which Brady has called home.

While he lets himself heal up (an excuse?) before jumping back into the sport, he finds a job working at a supermarket, where the editing of the film nails home the dreariness he feels working this job, compared to the adrenaline rush of rodeo riding. The overbearing question then becomes: will he ride again? He starts training horses, which involves riding them normally. A doctor though soon explains to him that even normal riding isn’t good for the brain injury that he has suffered. Surrounded by the culture that he is a part of, Brady doesn’t want to listen.

The film has a smattering of emotional moments that tear at the heart, especially when Brady visits Lane, a friend who was also seriously injured in a rodeo accident, though the way his life took a turn is a life in hell compared to the existence Brady lives each day. At least he can walk. It puts his injury in perspective. It is also telling that none of the group of friends from the earlier scene have visited him, as f he has intentionally left their culture.

Lane and Brody watch old rodeo videos together while Brady is patient with Lane and does his best to put a smile on his face, or to at least know he is having a good time. Brady’s sister’s situation stirs also, as does the way his father treats him: again, as if he is not acting like a man for not jumping on the horse right out of hospital. His injury is seen most those he knows as a flesh wound and nothing else. The final act of the film pulls the viewer further into Brady’s world and the frame of mind that he has been battling.

This powerful story is non-fiction in a sense, as Chinese director Chloé Zhao has worked with real rodeo riders to create her film, each displaying admirable acting abilities. She is also working with a true story, as Brady Jandreau, who stands out as the titular character, sustained a serious brain injury similar to that depicted. That he takes on this material as an actor is a brave decision and surely is a large influence on why his performance is so gritty, sad, and most importantly, very believable.

The major decision he must make about jumping on a rodeo horse again is an uncertainty for almost the entire length of the film, and Brady is convincing in bringing this onto to the screen, especially during quiet close-ups of his face, some that show little as he smokes ab

The Rider is a western that offers the opposite attitude from most alpha -male, macho- driven Westerns, and indeed some today’s of society itself. The attitude of pushing through pain, never thinking about quitting despite drastic circumstances. You aren’t a man if you don’t saddle up.

Brady (real rodeo-rider Brady Blackburn) suffered a severe head injury resulting from a rodeo accident, and after being stitched up, he ‘escapes’ hospital. This seems to be related to the above culture surrounding his life within the horse riding/rodeo circuit and the area in which he lives. The quiet, opening moments of the film depicting the depression he is feeling tell us that despite the impulse to easily escape hospital, the temptation of getting back into the saddle will be a difficult situation to deal with.

Brady’s position forces himself to evaluate his life moving forward. This is influenced by an early scene around a campfire with fellow rodeo rider friends, as he tells of how he was stomped in the head by the horse and the resulting trauma that it caused, ending with him in a coma. After finishing his brief recollection of nearing dying in the hospital, his friends smile as the group begin to trade how many injuries/concussions each have had – they are badges of honour here. It is the perfect scene, and short, to outline the attitude of his fellow riders without telling us overtly.

One rider tells of a time where Brady told him to push through the pain of a rib injury, to keep riding no matter the cost. Awkwardness follows and he Brady, asking if he’ll let his passion slip away just because his head hurts. This is not the first time his masculinity is challenged as this is an environment where that attitude is expected, is seen as necessary, from adult males, especially around the rodeo circuit which Brady has called home.

While he lets himself heal up (an excuse?) before jumping back into the sport, he finds a job working at a supermarket, where the editing of the film nails home the dreariness he feels working this job, compared to the adrenaline rush of rodeo riding. The overbearing question then becomes: will he ride again? He starts training horses, which involves riding them normally. A doctor though soon explains to him that even normal riding isn’t good for the brain injury that he has suffered. Surrounded by the culture that he is a part of, Brady doesn’t want to listen.

The film has a smattering of emotional moments that tear at the heart, especially when Brady visits Lane, a friend who was also seriously injured in a rodeo accident, though the way his life took a turn is a life in hell compared to the existence Brady lives each day. At least he can walk. It puts his injury in perspective. It is also telling that none of the group of friends from the earlier scene have visited him, as if he has intentionally left their culture.

Lane and Brody watch old rodeo videos together while Brady is patient with Lane and does his best to put a smile on his face, or to at least know he is having a good time. Brady’s sister’s situation stirs also, as does the way his father treats him: again, as if he is not acting like a man for not jumping on the horse right out of hospital. His injury is seen most those he knows as a flesh wound and nothing else. The final act of the film pulls the viewer further into Brady’s world and the frame of mind that he has been battling.

This powerful story is non-fiction in a sense, as Chinese director Chloé Zhao has worked with real rodeo riders to create her film, each displaying admirable acting abilities. She is also working with a true story, as Brady Jandreau, who stands out as the titular character, sustained a serious brain injury similar to that depicted. That he takes on this material as an actor is a brave decision and surely is a large influence on why his performance is so gritty, sad, and most importantly, very believable.

The major decision he must make about jumping on a rodeo horse again is an uncertainty for almost the entire length of the film, and Brady is convincing in bringing this onto to the screen, especially during quiet close-ups of his face, some that show little as he smokes absentmindedly. That Brady’s dad and sister also play themselves not only enhances the realistic nature of Brady, but also family interactions, especially when his dad is critical of him initially not wanting to get back on the saddle. As his father is a drunk, Brady takes a special interest in raising his sister who has a learning disability of some sort. This and his visits to Lane depict the humanity within Brady, not to mention the important reality that if one is in pain, they usually have empathy for anyone

sentmindedly. That Brady’s dad and sister also play themselves not only enhances the realistic nature of Brady, but also family interactions, especially when his dad is critical of him initially not wanting to get back on the saddle. As his father is a drunk, Brady takes a special interest in raising his sister who has a learning disability of some sort. This and his visits to Lane depict the humanity within Brady, not to mention the important reality that if one is in pain, they usually have empathy for anyone who is also in pain. A fantastic character study and one of the best films of 2018.


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Zhao and her DP Joshua James Richards have created a spectacular looking picture, whether it is the rugged land of the west, the incredible landscape images sometimes involving a wondering Brady. The close-up angles used throughout to focus on Brady’s face further cement Jandreau’s acting ability, while other cramped shots of their small trailer are efficient in showing us Brady’s home situation without the need for much, if any, exposition. Brady will surely receive some attention soon, as this film has been considered by some as one of the best of the year. No arguments here, this is a powerful film that is hard to fault.

A full sixer

6/6