THE Rider is a beautiful tender film that examines the risks that bull and bronco riders take in pursuing their sport. Risks that can result in life changing accidents.
Directed by Chloe Zhao and shot in South Dakota, the film’s ‘ace’ card is the employment of non-professional actors to play themselves. As a result, the film has an authenticity that has the viewer one moment marvelling at the skills of the horsemen and the next weeping at the tragic consequences of someone’s act of bravado. Issues based around poverty, life-long friendships, foolhardiness and man’s love for horses are all examined.
At the film’s heart is a family that has gone through the mill – not once but repeatedly. The mother has long left this world while father Tim (Tim Jandreau) has gambling problems as well as a liking for the women and alcohol. Issues that threaten to get him and his family turfed out of his home and force him to sell one of his horses to make ends meet.
Completing the family are Lilly (a delightful Lilly Jandreau) and Brady. Lilly is a teenager with learning difficulties who loves bursting into song. Brady is a bronco rider who is recovering from an awful fall that has left him with a plate in his skull and staples in his head.
Although he has been told not to get on a horse again, Brady knows little else. He is also subject to tremendous peer pressure from his friends. Despite getting a job at a local superstore, he cannot keep away from horses. He gets back on one despite suffering from bouts of vomiting and spasms in his right hand that occasionally prevent him from unclenching his right hand. He continues to break horses in, often risking further injury.
Brady watches a video of his horrible accident. He also goes off to visit his great friend Lane (Lane Scott, playing himself) who has been left severely disabled after falling off a bull. Lane remains in hospital and can only communicate through moving his hands.
The indefatigable love between the two of them is heart wrenching, especially when Brady gets him on a mechanical horse. We see clips of Lane pre accident. Bold, brash and oozing bravado. The comparison between Lane pre and post accident is done matter of factly and without a trace of sentimentality. It is painful to view.
Brady is the film’s star. His sensitive handling of horses, many previously untamed or unbroken, is remarkable and beautiful to observe. Few horses get the better of him. Most fall under his spell and respond to his command. He is a horse whisperer, an equine lover and someone left devastated when a horse has to be put down. He also shows an overwhelming love to his sister and Lane.
Yet Brady cannot forget his time as a renowned bronco rider – a point reinforced when a young lad asks to be photographed with him. Will he return to the ring? Or will he see sense?
The Rider is underpinned with authenticity. It is this honesty that makes it so compelling. Brady Jandreau is a living breathing version of Robert Redford’s Tom Booker. Warts and all.