Leave it to a young, aspiring Chinese director to bring us one of the most compassionate rodeo circuit films in recent memory. Beijing native Chloe Zhao, a product of western film influences inside the communist country following the mid-1980s, wrote, produced and directed this cowboy story based on true events.
“The Rider” introduces Brady Jandreau, the real-life bronco rider from South Dakota who sustained a horrific head injury during a rodeo competition in 2016. With the character name Brady Blackburn, Jandreau is joined on film by his real father (Tim Jandreau), sister Lilly, and lifelong friends—all playing their respective roles in Brady’s rehabilitation story.
On the Pine Ridge Oglala Lakota Reservation studying widespread teen suicides, director Zhao came across the healing Brady and decided instead to tell his sobering and tragic narrative on the big screen. Their collaboration resulted in “The Rider” winning the Art Cinema Award at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, while also placing second for Best Film in the IndieWire Critics’ Poll.
Two of the movie’s most endearing qualities include Brady’s kind relationship with his younger sister and a special life-long bond he’s established with fellow injured rodeo rider Lane Scott (who also plays himself). The rapport keeps Brady grounded, and fights off any thoughts of self-pity that festers deep inside the young star’s injured head.
The movie’s sustained attention never focuses directly on Brady’s accident taking place, but rather his determination to find his life’s path after the bronco riding incident. It’s here—when the chips are down for Brady—where his true spirit and willingness to take on any job to make ends meet is found. Also underscored is Brady’s ability to fall back on his phenomenal horse whisperer skills to tame agitated and wild horses. All of this is fascinating to watch unfold on the picturesque backdrop of the rolling hills of South Dakota.
Remarkable footage using long cuts between scenes brings the horse interactions with Brady up close and personal to the audience. The cinematography alone sets this film apart from most others, capturing Brady’s tedious odd jobs and outdoor horse training sessions with the greatest effect.
Without fail, “The Rider” always remembers that it takes two to ride. Likewise, the consequences following injury are as severe for both rider and horse.
This film is a tribute to the healing power of horses and the difficult career choices faced by one man after his near-death accident. “The Rider” is a gut-punch to Brady Blackburn (and viewers). Each is reminded that lives can change in less than eight seconds.