The Rider

 

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A highly unusual contemporary work set in the American West.

 
  Rider, The

Brady Jandreau

 

This strikingly original piece is the second feature from writer/director Chloé Zhao but her first to be released here. Its setting is South Dakota and its central figure, Brady Blackburn, is a cowboy who, devoted to horses, has become a successful rodeo rider. Although this is a contemporary piece, these ingredients would justify describing The Rider as a western of sorts, but in fact its character is such that it stands apart.

 

Brady Blackburn, played by Brady Jandreau, is introduced to us at a time when his life is in crisis. Following the death of his mother to whom he had been very close, he continues to live with his father, Wayne (Tim Jandreau, father of the lead actor) and his younger sister Lilly (Lilly Jandreau, sister of Brady). However, Brady Blackburn's world has been upended by an unforeseen event. Thrown by a horse at the local rodeo, he has suffered injuries that have made it necessary to have a metal plate inserted in his head. He is taking time off to recover and has accepted a temporary job in a supermarket, but he has to recognise that, even when he is fit again, the surgery that has been performed on him will put him seriously at risk should he resume riding and suffer some other injury.

 

Colleagues and friends of Brady play a subsidiary part in this tale but to an unusual extent the film eschews adding plot details to what is really a study of one man, an individual who believes that his God-given role in life is to ride. Over time we see him return to breaking in horses and training them. However, when a problem with his right hand arises, it becomes more of an issue than ever as to whether or not he has any choice other than to give up what means more to him than anything else.

 

The film's tone, further illustrated by a limited and suitably discreet music score, is admirably understated. That is its strength and not its weakness, all the more so because whatever additional elements have been added Brady Blackburn's situation as an injured rodeo rider is identical with that of the man who plays him. He may be portraying a version of himself but Brady Jandreau seems a natural screen presence and, in a series of scenes in which he handles horses, the screen comes alive as it conveys the genuine rapport between Brady Jandreau and these animals. These are wondrous moments. If the film is not quite a masterpiece it is due to a touch of stylisation at the close combined with a moment of sentimentality that has been splendidly absent until then. It's also the case that certain subsidiary elements such as Brady's uneasy relationship with his father and scenes featuring a hospitalised colleague with brain damage (Lane Scott appearing as himself) raise passing doubts. But the overall impression left is that, with an unforced style that may commend itself to admirers of Kelly Reichardt's films but which is nevertheless its own thing, Chloé Zhao has made a film that charts fresh territory.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Brady Jandreau, Lilly Jandreau, Tim Jandreau, Lane Scott, Cat Clifford, Leroy Pourier, Tanner Langdeau, James Calhoon, Mooney.

 

Dir Chloé Zhao, Pro Chloé Zhao, Bert Hamelinck, Sacha Ben Harroche and Mollye Asher, Screenplay Chloé Zhao, Ph Joshua James Richards, Ed Alex O'Flinn, Music Nathan Halpern.

 

Sony Pictures Classics/Caviar and Highwayman Films-Altitude Film Entertainment.
103 mins. USA. 2017. Rel: 14 September 2018. Cert. 15.