“A horse’s purpose is to run in the prairies; a cowboy’s is to ride.” So, what does a cowboy become when he can no longer ride? This is the question at the centre of Chloé Zhao’s The Rider, and the defining conflict for its protagonist, Brady Blackburn (Brady Jandreau). A skilled rodeo cowboy and horse trainer, Brady suffers a near-fatal accident that abruptly halts his career and forces him to contemplate what a new life could look like.
The ability to ride defines a man’s worth in Brady’s world. Though riding and horses are never far from his thoughts, Brady now spends his days working at the local supermarket and his nights drinking with his buddies. With his mother gone and with a borderline alcoholic father with a gambling problem, Brady finds himself responsible for his 15-year-old sister, Lilly (Lilly Jandreau). With his limited education, money and local fame may seem easiest to come by in the world of rodeo, but so are injury and even death.
Returning to the docudrama technique that earned her debut feature, Songs My Brothers Taught Me, critical acclaim, Zhao integrates the real lives of her actors into her storytelling. Majestically captured by Joshua James Richards’ intimate photography, the dusty, expansive landscapes provide the canvas for Zhao’s art. Stoic and fearless with a rare sense of authenticity, she embraces the humanity of its characters and explores definitions of masculinity without glorification or judgment. The Rider is less a western than a film about the real American west.
“Focusing on the indigenous community of the Pine Ridge reservation, Zhao reimagines the entrenched masculine persona of the cowboy. The result is an entrancing, deeply moving effort, one that is certain to steal the hearts of audiences.” (Bradley Warren, The Playlist)
“Utilizing a cast of non-actors—most of whom are tasked with playing versions of themselves, in a story pulled from their lives—Zhao’s film derives its power from the truth that both drives it and inspires it, and the final result is a wholly unique slice-of-life drama.” (Kate Erbland, Indiewire)
“The Rider is a rare gem, a small, acutely observed portrait of a few lives on what used to be the frontier but is now a desolate backwater, the windswept badlands around Pine Ridge, South Dakota.” (Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter)