The Rider

The Rider ★★★½

Based on a true story, Brady Blackburn was a young rodeo bucking bronc rider who is slowly recovering from an almost fatal head injury. In the film, he deals with family and friends, and painfully faces a future without rodeo fame and fortune. What distinguishes the film is that Brady, his father and younger sister, and a totally injury disabled rodeo friend named Lane are played in the film by themselves. And make no mistake, Brady Jandreau (the real Brady Blackburn), is a natural actor with a kind of soft charisma that leaps from the screen. In Q&A, he admitted that he would like to have a career as an actor, and I wish him success.

As for the film, it is slow and meditative. Director Chloé Zhao has an innate sensibility for gleaning realistic performances from her amateur cast. Joshua James Richard's cinematography takes full advantage of the spectacular South Dakota scenery in gorgeous long shots. And the rodeo material is fresh and nicely edited. I was intrigued by the story and milieu; but the script and actors didn't totally engage me emotionally, which was my only reservation. This is cinema verité style film making done well. Maybe it takes a Chinese born auteur like Zhao (or Ang Lee, for that matter) to put a fresh slant on the American western mythos.