This beautifully shot film set in South Dakota tells the story of a young bronco rider Brady Blackburn [Brady Jandreau] who has been disabled by a life changing injury which prevents
him pursuing his riding career. It takes us into his rural community and their struggles to make a living from their land where opportunities are
hard to find. Brady continues to train horses and his love and talent in this regard are at the heart of the story. Director Chloe Zhao cast actors
whose real life stories mirror those shown in the film, giving it a documentary quality.
Dir: Chloe Zhao, USA, 104 mins, 2017
For all its longevity and tradition, the Western is a genre that responds well to reinvention. Daniel Barber’s The Keeping Room (2014), for example, is among the handful to be told from the female experience, while Patrick Hughes’ Red Hill (2010) is one of many to transplant the template to modern times and other countries. And while Chinese-born writer-director Chloe Zhao hasn’t attempted to turn the genre entirely on its head, her sophomore feature The Rider reshapes the traditional cowboy narrative in a way that both embraces and challenges Western tropes.
Set in the wide country of South Dakota, this is an account of the life of rodeo riders. They are Lakota Sioux of the Pine Ridge Reservation, where making a living is hard going and very competitive. The story centres on Brady Blackburn (played by former real-life cowboy Brady Jandreau, of Lakota Sioux descent) trying to come to terms with the consequences of a near-fatal riding accident but obstinately vowing to return to the sport – rodeo – that almost killed him.
The film is not only Brady’s lament but that of an entire way of life. South Dakota used, once, to be the frontier, the cutting edge of possibility. Then it became America’s heartland, a stable, dependable environment. When Brady finally sees sense and abandons his last-ditch attempt to return to the saddle, he goes straight back to his best friend and ex bull rider Lane Scott (himself recovering from a debilitating brain injury) to watch old rodeo movies of the two of them in glorious action. It’s a bittersweet moment, an acknowledgement both of triumphs past and a happy ending that, for many, will never transpire.
Although the film is not a documentary, it follows closely real events in the lives of the people playing the leading roles.
Acknowledgements: Nikki Baughn, Sight&Sound
Tara Brady, The Irish Times
“One of the film’s chief virtues lies in its crafting a portrait of lower-class working Americans without the slightest touch of condescension” Godfrey Cheshire, rogerebert.com
“Cinema that’s challenging and offbeat is always in danger of being overlooked but The Rider deserves to be seen” Calvin Wilson, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
- A life enhancing story told with great sensitivity
- A courageous but, thank God, not a foolish man – brilliantly acted!
- Very hard and bleak – life stripped back to the bone!
- Sympathetic characters with much pathos and a lot to learn about training horses! I missed much of the dialogue – could have done with sub-titles
- Very touching, although I understood only ca. 20% of the dialogue
- Wild West accents hard to follow!
- Subtitles required. Was this a cowboy road movie?
- Elegiac film – the director totally convinced me of her love and admiration for their lifestyle. Unfortunately, I didn’t share it!
- Rather slow for my liking but very moving at times. Sub-titles would have helped.
- The impact of the ending made this film a great slice-of-life story dealing with disability in the face of trying to pursue what was just a dream
- Not interesting or engaging enough