Chinese-born writer/director Chloe Zhao, who lives in Denver, Colorado, obviously feels a deep affinity for America’s heartland, introducing intriguing, off-beat Native American characters we seldom see on the silver screen. Set and filmed on the desolate, poverty-stricken Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, The Rider is the melancholy story of Sioux cowboy Brady Jandreau, playing himself, in a Badlands docudrama. Continue reading…
After a near-death rodeo injury leaves him with a metal plate in his head, neurological seizures in his right hand, and under a doctor’s order never to ride again, stoic Brady must decide what to do with himself after he’s deprived not only of his one true passion but also of the family’s primary source of income.
Living in a rented trailer, Brady’s taciturn, alcoholic/gambler dad (Tim Jandreau) has no money, and his ebullient little sister Lilly (Lilly Jandreau) suffers from a birth defect which has obviously limited her intellectual capabilities. His mom died of cancer years earlier.
To add to Brady’s dilemma, his best friend Lane (Lane Scott) is institutionalized with severe disabilities from his own rodeo injuries, all of which have been recorded on videos which they watch together and reminisce for hours.
Determined to help Lane, who is unable to speak, Brady devises a physical therapy exercise, hoisting his buddy onto a saddle, so he can hold onto the reins on an imaginary horseback ride.
Horses are and have been Brady’s life. To risk another head injury could be fatal, but that’s all Brady knows.
The actors are all non-professional, portraying fictionalized versions of themselves. Filmmaker Chloe Zhao knows the Jandreau family well, having lived on their reservation while she filmed her first feature “Songs My Brothers Taught Me” (2015). For personal reasons, she changed the family name to Blackburn for this feature.
FYI: Brady Jandreau is now married with a child; he breeds and trains quarter horses.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Rider” is an evocative, empathetic, elegiac 8, a captivating contemporary Western.