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ADIFF 2018 Review - THE RIDER

the rider movie review
A young cowboy attempts to adjust to life when a head injury threatens to end his career as a rodeo rider.







Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: ChloĆ© Zhao

Starring: Brady Jandreau, Tim Jandreau, Lilly Jandreau, Cat Clifford, Terri Dawn Pourier

the rider movie poster


Writer/director ChloĆ© Zhao blurs the lines between documentary and drama with her sophomore feature, The Rider. Changing their surnames, Zhao casts three members of the Jandreaus, a working class South Dakota cowboy clan, as alternate versions of themselves in a loving tribute to the sort of rural folk American media tends to portray with condescension at best, contempt at worst.

20-year-old Brady Jandreau here becomes Brady Blackburn. When we meet him first he's using a pocket knife to crudely remove staples from a head injury acquired from being stamped on by a bucking bronco during a rodeo ride gone wrong. Brady's doctors have advised him to quit his life as a rodeo rider, but the young cowboy is determined to get back in the saddle.

the rider movie

Brady pays regular hospital visits to another victim of a similar accident, Lane Scott (played by himself), whose injuries have left him paralysed and coping with learning difficulties. Rather than his condition serving as a warning, Scott provides stubborn inspiration for Brady, telling him to continue to follow his dreams. His back adorned by a tattoo that reads 'Say I won’t, and I will,' Scott displays no regrets over the life choices he's made, constantly wearing a smile on his face as he and Brady replay his greatest moments on YouTube.

Brady takes a job in a local supermarket, telling himself it's only temporary until he can return to the rodeo arena. He receives encouragement from his many adoring local fans, who are surprised to see their hero stacking cereal shelves and bagging their groceries.

the rider movie

Appearing more comfortable around horses than people, Brady splashes his savings on an Arabian stallion, a horse that, like himself, has been written off, considered too wild to be tamed. In a mesmeric scene, we watch in something close to real time as Brady gains the animal's trust, eventually getting to a place of faith where the horse allows him to straddle it. You get the sense that this moment would have played out regardless of whether Zhao was there to capture it with her camera or not. The scene that follows, of Brady and his steed galloping through the South Dakota plains, the horizon seeming endless, suggesting new possibilities for two broken creatures, is devastating in its power, the emotionally overwhelming highlight of a film that will have you holding back tears throughout.

Growing up in working class West Dublin, I knew kids who owned horses. They weren't rich kids with access to stables and fields, but rather starved children who would collect unwanted apples from their classmates to feed not themselves, but the animals they kept illegally in their modest back gardens. These boys were tough as nails, their situation forcing them to become men before their time, but around their horses they would turn into teddy bears.

the rider movie

I couldn't help but think of those kids as I watched the relationship between Brady and his horse. I doubt any 2018 movie will offer us a love affair between two humans that comes close to the genuine affection we witness here. Heath Ledger lookalike Brady Jandreau is a real acting find, and if his career as a cowboy is over, it could be Hollywood's gain. Far less professionally talented but no less engaging and endearing are his rugged, hard drinking father Tim and his mentally challenged younger sister Lilly, whose spontaneous reactions to her brother's nuggets of sibling wisdom make for some of the film's most charming moments.

Zhao keeps us guessing as to where Brady is headed. Will he insist on defying his doctor's orders and end up in the same state as his idol Lane, or worse? Or will he realise the rodeo is a life he must leave behind and hang up his dreams? Each viewer will have their own opinion on what's best for the young man, but thanks to Jandreau's endearingly captivating performance and Zhao's compassionate approach, you'll be rooting for him all the way regardless of his decision.




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