The Rider

Nominated for 5 Independent Spirit Awards

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. Focusing on a young cowboy whose promising future as a rodeo rider is suddenly jeopardized by a dreadful head injury, this spare and intimate second feature by Chloé Zhao beautifully captures the way a handful of people stoically deal with the meagre hands that life has dealt them.

Poster for Chloe Zhao's drama The RiderAt the centre of this quiet, sensitive piece is Brady Blackburn (Brady Jandreau), who when first seen sports a stapled-together scalp wound, the result of a recent severe injury in which a horse stepped on his skull.

Rodeo and training horses have always been Brady’s life, and the doctors’ edict that he’s got to give it all up is tough to take. Not just that, but his immediate circle counts on him for everything; good-natured sister Lilly has limited capacities, while best pal Lane suffers from disabilities that would seem to indicate a lifetime of institutional care. Dad is a tough guy more prone to man-up-style challenges than help or concern.

While Brady’s condition remains obviously impaired – his right hand has become so gnarled that he is constantly obliged to pry his fingers out of a curl – he is forced to admit the truth about his condition. But as he slowly improves, you can essentially read his mind as he begins weighing the idea of taking the risk versus living a life without competing again.

Zhao tells her tale with a natural, unaffected confidence that is bracing. The result is a beautiful, honest account of a tough way of life, one which produces – and requires – a strong sense of identity and values.

If all the characters here feel like the real deal, it’s because they are; the Blackburn clan are played by real-life family members Brady, Tim and Lilly Jandreau. Zhao met Brady before his real-life accident and developed the story out of the aftermath.

– Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter

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