Mitchell Beaupre’s review published on Letterboxd:
Second bit of prep for Nomadland. I’ll admit that I had some hesitation going into this one that might have distanced me from it more than others. I never really had interest in watching it, despite all of its acclaim when it came out. I don’t particularly care for animals being trained to act in movies in general, and especially when the movie is so intrinsically linked to rodeo and breaking horses, it’s simply not my vibe. I have the same issue with something like Rust and Bone, where a big part of the movie is asking us to empathize with a main character who engages with animal cruelty and suffered consequences from it, and I’m like… okay. It just distances me, and I can’t deny that did impact my experience with The Rider.
Now, with all of that said, I can see how if this wasn’t an issue for somebody that they would be really enamored with this movie. Even with my distance from it there are really strong themes and emotions being pulled on here. I love the inception for what drew Zhao to the film; that she met Brady Jandreau on the reservation where she shot Songs My Brothers Taught Me, where they became friends, and she wanted to tell this story after he had an accident similar to the one Brady’s character faces in the movie. Unlike some people who didn’t care for the acting in this movie, I thought Jandreau’s performance was great, as was pretty much everyone. Zhao really has a way with non-professional actors and it again shines through.
What also shines through is her humanism, her empathy and compassion for people, and crafting stories that feel like we’re watching real human beings. The Rider has major vibes similar to The Wrestler, examining the anguish and persistent existentialism that comes when you are no longer able to do the one thing you’ve always done, the one thing you found meaning and purpose in. Where do we go when what feels like our reason for being is no longer available to us? It’d be like if any of us were suddenly unable to watch movies for the rest of our lives. That’s a powerful idea to put to film, and Zhao really captures its essence here. It becomes a little too spoon-fed to the audience in the scene where Brady recounts having to put a horse down as a kind of mercy kill, but it’s still an idea that resonates well, even despite the things holding me back from fully embracing the film.