The Rider


Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

The Rider
"The craft, the knowledge, the deep communication with the animal, shown without words - this is breathtaking, transcendent cinema."

Where else should you look for the quintessence of the world but in a horse's eyes? And listen for it in the rumbling of thunder? All that is good and majestic and bottomlessly vast can be found there.

Chloé Zhao, in her exquisite follow-up to Songs My Brothers Taught Me, begins with both and never lets go of what is essential thereafter. The rider of the title is Brady (Brady Jandreau), a young rodeo champion, who, after an accident resulting in severe head injury, has to come to terms with the fact that his life will never be the same again. Entirely cast with nonprofessional actors, many of them playing variations of themselves, The Rider looks out at life on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

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Brady, an actual horse trainer, is a revelation when he shows us what it entails to tame a horse. The craft, the knowledge, the deep communication with the animal, shown without words - this is breathtaking, transcendent cinema. Zhao captures wonderful work.

Brady puts out his fist towards the horse's head, tenderly, the way you do with a curious cat or dog stranger to signal, "Hey, I mean you well." "Let's go for a cruise - how does that sound, Bud?" Brady says to Apollo, the horse. And off they ride through the grasses, mountains in the vista. We feel the wind through the cinematography of Joshua James Richards (Francis Lee's God's Own Country and Songs My Brothers Taught Me).

Brady's father, Tim (Wayne Blackburn). confronted with his son's accident, first takes the I-told-you route and plays tougher than he is to distract from his own weakness and devastation. We learn that the mother is no longer alive. Brady visits her grave where he holds in his hands a small plastic toy horse. Who put it there, and when, is not important. And yet, its presence seems absolutely necessary.

The Dakota Mart, a supermarket where Brady finds work, is not presented as hell. The Rider does not need dramatic exaggerations. It is painful in comparison to what he cannot do anymore. The implications are largest in modest scenes, such as the stocking of the deodorant shelf.

One of his colleagues has a hook for a hand. Around a nightly fire his friends from the rodeo tell the tales of their injuries. His best friend (Lane Scott) is in a wheelchair living under constant care in the hospital. Brady's visits speak of a deep bond between the two men. We rarely see friendships like this in movies - or in life.

Brady's little sister, Lilly (Lilly Blackburn), who is on the autism spectrum, does her best to protect her brother. She serenades him, listens, and loves. When their father brings home a bra for her to wear, because she is already 15 years old, she resents it. That is, she resents both, the age and the gift. The bra, she cuts up and she says she wants to be 14 again because 15 is not fun. "I'll take care of you," says Brady. "I'll take care of you, too," says his sister.

There is never a moment of worry that an animal could be used for cheap effect to make a point about someone's evil character. Unfortunately, that cannot be said about all the films in this year's New York Film Festival lineup. The Rider is the winner of the Grand Prix Award at the Deauville Festival of American Cinema and the Art Cinema Award in the Directors’ Fortnight of the Cannes Film Festival.

Reviewed on: 26 Sep 2017
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A young cowboy tries to carve out a new identity.
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Director: Chloé Zhao

Writer: Chloé Zhao

Starring: Brady Jandreau, Tim Jandreau, Lilly Jandreau, Cat Clifford, Terri Dawn Pourier, Lane Scott, Tanner Langdeau, James Calhoon, Derrick Janis

Year: 2017

Runtime: 104 minutes

Country: US

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