Browse all reviews by letter     A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 0 - 9

USA 2017
Directed by
Chloe Zhao
104 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

The Rider

Writer-director Chloé Zhao’s remarkable second feature is the story of Brady Blackburn (Brady Jandreau), a young man who had a successful career as a rodeo cowboy until he sustained a serious head injury in a fall. He is forbidden by the doctors to ride again but horses are all that he knows so he must adapt to his new situation.

That’s pretty much the plot of The Rider, a lyrically realist portrayal of the lives of Brady and his father, Tim Blackburn (Wayne Jandreau), and autistic sister Lilly (Lilly Jandreau) who live together on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation.

Zhao came across Brady’s story while making her 2015 debut feature Songs My Brother Taught Me (which I haven’t seen but will be searching out) which was set on the same reservation and dealt with the relationship between a Lakota Sioux girl and her older brother.

With the assistance of cinematographer Joshua James Richards who lensed SMBTM and convincingly natural performances from her cast of non-professional actors  Zhao delivers an unforced but empathetic account of lives that are marginal yet nevertheless have their own integrity. The issues are visible through the fabric of Brady’s story – alcoholism, gambling, limited job opportunities, low levels of education and so on but Zhao keeps the focus on Brady as he tries to rebuild his life. The most evocative scenes are those in which he wins the trust of a recalcitrant bronco and visits another rider who has been permanently disabled, I assume in a fall like Brady’s. Although Brady is a laconic, even taciturn, young man the depth of his feelings is apparent and his relationship with Lilly is particularly poignant.  

Over and above the formal achievements of The Rider it is remarkable insofar as Zhao is a Beijing-born Asian-American (she studied film in America). One is reminded of Nicolas Roeg’s brilliant portrait of the Australian Outback and Aboriginal/White relations, Walkabout (1971). Sometimes it seems that an outsider can capture the significant essence of a people and place the way a native cannot. One might, hopefully not racistically, suggest that Zhao also brought a contemplative Asiatic awareness of the transience of life, a perspective that suited her material perfectly.

The Rider is a slow, spare mixture of quiet emotionality and philosophical reflection well suited to a melancholy mood.




Want something different?

random vintage best worst