Perched in front a bathroom mirror pulling staples out of the side of a heavily bandaged head are the first images we see of Broncho rider Brady Blackburn (Brady Jandreau) Brady is just recently home from hospital after being stepped on by a bucking horse at a rodeo event. His world consists of his mentally challenged sister Lilly (Lilly Jandreau) his dad (Tim Jandreau) the trailer they live in and the horses on their South Dakota property that they groom and train. His dad is prone to drinking and gambling leaving the family short of cash especially since Brady can no longer complete plus the doctors are even cautioning him from even training horses.
Director Chloe Zhao lets the South Dakota vast landscape and space habitation play out like a leading character in this film/documentary story of the challenges facing an injured cowboy in recovery. A few of his professional riding friends drop by taking him out into the desert for a night of beers, shenanigans and riding stories. A telling comment is all the pride they have remarking how keep going when even one of their smallest injuries would put a millionaire NFL player into concussion protocol.
Back to reality Brady is forced to take a job in a grocery store to bring in some money as his dad is forced to sell a beloved horse to pay off the back rent on the family trailer. He’s recognized by fans who pose for pictures egging him on to get back on a horse and into competition. Brady’s happiest times occur when he visits his friend Lane (Lane Scott) who’s in a rehabilitation hospital with severe injuries from a riding accident that has put him in a wheelchair. They look at Lanes old rides, get him up on a saddle and work the reigns together as if Lane is back up on a horse.
Cinematographer Joshua James Richards deserves special mention. His lighting, shading and framing choices show off the South Dakota terrain. The fire flickering off the friends faces as they surround a campfire in the desert as they switch off telling war stories to the closing window of light between Brady and a colt as he tries to gain a stallion’s trust to first be able to touch, place a saddle then mount.
The Rider is an intimate measured paced story rooted in the true obstacles facing a bronco buster after a serious injury. Brady identifies himself as the titular character but must face the fact that he may not be able to do the one thing he loves ever again. Zhao dives into the lifestyle the factors by which a cowboy determines their self-worth and into the stark reality of what changes have to be made when the dream is over.
**** Out of 4.
The Rider |Chloe Zhao | U.S.A. | 2017 | 104 Minutes
Tags: Rodeo, Bronco Rider, Head Injury, Double Wide, Saddle, Chaps, Horse Trainer, Spinal Injury, Rehabilitation Hospital, Seizures, Pine Ridge, Dakotamart.