The Rider mixes truth with fiction and the result is a modern western that rings both true and mythic. The cowboy stoicism is here if not always the hat. It’s often a world of beer and pot and swearing and slow boiling anger. It depicts rodeo riding as an obsession, at times an unreasonable one, and makes us feel this obsession as a force strong enough to drive a life or to crush it.
Brady Jandreau plays Brady Blackburn a rider who, like the Brady playing the role, has been told to give up rodeo after sustaining a head injury that nearly killed him. He is is resolute not to give up. His father Wayne (Tim Jandreau, Brady’s actual father) disapproves. His sister Lilly (Lilly Jandreau, Brady’s actual sister) pulls real warmth from Brady with open acceptance. Several of Brady Blackburn’s friends are played by Jandreau’s real-life friends including Lane Scott, a rider so injured by a rodeo accident he is unable to walk or speak.*
The performances are natural enough that one needn’t know the biographical aspects to find The Rider compelling. But knowing them shades the drama as we wonder how much the people on screen are revealing about themselves, about their relationships and their disappointments with the past and present. There have been many scenes of stories around campfires but it’s a unique realization that the stories the riders tell are almost certainly true.
For a film like this, the journey and the setting would suffice. But just when the film seems content to mosey through its runtime, it delivers a deft bit of editing that caps Brady’s story and the question of his allegiances. This is writer-director Chloé Zhao’s second feature film. Her steady hand at the reins promises more ahead.
Assuming the sun has set on The Rider in your local theaters, you can find it for rent on August 7th.
* [update]: Heads up commenter <b>Miller</b> pointed out below that in real life Lane Scott was actually injured in an auto accident. The film neatly sidesteps this fact to better position Scott as a vision of Brady (the character)’s possible future.