The Rider (2017)

The Rider is a magical, must-see mixture of real life and fiction by director Chloe Zhang that opens up a world of modern-day cowboys through the story of injured rodeo rider Brady Jandreau.

Rodeo Driven

by Alexa Dalby

The Rider

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

The Rider is an extraordinary film. Like The Ciambra it very cleverly uses real people to play themselves in a version of their lives. It vividly creates a familiar-from-films real-life Western world of ranches, cowboys and rodeos that, amazingly, still exists on the plains of South Dakota.

Brady Blackburn is a cowboy and rodeo rider who is thrown off and kicked in the head by his bucking bronco. Told he must never rodeo again because of the severe head injury he has suffered, what does his life mean to him when he can no longer do the thing he loves? As he says, if he’d been a horse, he would have been shot. Being a man, he has to carry on living.

Though it unravels like a drama, it’s all basically true. Brady Blackburn is in reality Brady Jandreau, playing a slightly fictionalised version of himself. We see him recovering from his injury as the story develops. In the film, as in life, he lives with his real-life family, father Tim Jandreau and Aspergers-sufferer sister Lilly, both playing versions of themselves.

As the story slowly develops, we feel for Brady and his struggle to come to terms with what he has lost. The blurring of fact and fiction makes it even more poignant. Although he can no longer compete as a rodeo rider, we see him in action in real time in his day job of skilfully calming and training a wild horse. His deep love of horses helps him carry on, but it is also the basis of the lifestyle that is slipping away from him – and may in fact have no future in the modern world. And we see him in sensitive, painful visits to his childhood friend Lane Scott, also a former rodeo rider, who is disabled and in rehab from an even more devastating brain injury than his own.

Director Chloe Zhang has given us a window into a vigorous, macho old-West lifestyle, ranging between busy hand-held camerawork conveying the chaotic energy of the local rodeos and beautiful cinematography of the wide landscapes by Joshua James Richards that’s reminiscent of Terrence Malick. It’s fascinating, humane and very moving, made possible because of the trust of her participants, whom she has known since making her previous film Songs My Brothers Taught Me.

The Rider premiered at the 71st Cannes Film Festival and is released on 14 September 2018 in the UK.

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