The Rider (2017) reviewed by Jonathan Berk

The Rider (2017) was a film that I’d written off as one I just wouldn’t give the time of day. After hearing several other critics praise this film, I decided I needed to give it a go…and I’m so glad I did. It is worthy to note that my last two months of video gaming have primarily been dedicated to Red Dead Redemption 2, definitely put me in the right state of mind to watch a film about a rodeo star suddenly finding himself unable to do the thing he loves. Still, anyone who has ever feared not being able to do what you love can easily empathize with the protagonist of this movie.

The Rider works visually, as a genre film, and a story so sympathetic it’s hard not to love

Brady Blackburn (Brady Jandreau) is recovering from being stomped on by a Bronco at his last rodeo competition. He’s left with a huge scar on his head and some lasting injuries, but none is worse than being told he should never ride again. Now Brady sits sidelined, debating what the next course of action is, and who he is if not a cowboy.

Director Chloé Zhao took on an incredible challenge with this movie in that the entire cast is playing versions of themselves. The story of Brady Blackburn is essentially the story of Brady Jandreau. His sister Lily is actually his sister, as is his father in the film. We meet a close friend of Brady who had an accident named Lane Scott – and it is the real Lane Scott. Taking non-actors and placing them in a film is challenging enough, but then to tell this emotional of a story is clearly an uphill battle. Yet, Zhao and her cast perform so well that when I realized they were playing versions of themselves, my jaw dropped. Initially, I felt a newness to their performances, as they were a little wooden in some of the line reads – but as the film went on, that wore off.

Aside from having a story so compelling and relatable that I still feel its weight as I type these words two hours after the film ended, it is absolutely gorgeous. I’ve never traveled to South Dakota nor have I ever even considered it – but the vistas that Zhao and her Director of Photography Joshua James Richards capture are breathtaking. The Western genre is one that I’m still learning, but the elements that I’m familiar with are certainly present here.

What is most compelling about The Rider is its human story. The idea that we may not be able to do the one thing that makes us happy chills most people to their core. When I was younger and had ambitions of being a musician, my biggest fear was going deaf. The thoughts of not being able to listen to a song or hear my guitar the way I did still frightens me. Movies have been my longest love, and have always made me fear not being able to see them. Jandreau is living through these fears. He is a cowboy, and that is all he knows and loves. The scenes where he is working with the horses are so informing – and apparently one of them happened in real time, as he actually broke a colt – to who he is and how much this lifestyle is a part of him that it makes the reality of his situation so devastating. I’m not sure I’ve ever cared for a character – truly a person I’ve never met – more than this film made me care for Blackburn…or Jandreau. The blurred line of reality and fiction here only makes that impact felt all the more.

Final thoughts…

If you skipped The Rider or just never heard of it, do yourself a favor and rent it as soon as possible. Actually, if anything I said above appeals to you, just go ahead and buy it. This is a film that speaks to so many elements of the human condition and also to the talent of a young filmmaker, with this being her second feature. I know this movie made me want to saddle back up in RDR2. The Rider is a Must See film in every sense of the rating.

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