Review: The Rider
A stirring elegy for dreamers who must sometime learn that “dreams aren’t meant to be.”
Set against the soft plains and expansive skies of South Dakota, Chloé Zhao’s mesmerizing sophomore feature follows Brady Blackburn (Brady Jandreau), a hard-as-nails bronco rider, whose dreams of becoming a rodeo champ are dashed when he is bucked off his horse and kicked in the head. He spends his days recovering from a surgery that has left a metal plate in his skull. He spends his nights drinking with his buddies who, riders themselves, tell Brady to man-up and work through the pain. But he knows that his body can no longer handle the stress of rodeoing: his hands keep seizing, his stomach keeps turning. And as he meanders from job to job, from dawn to dusk, he begins to wonder just who or what he is, now that he can no longer call himself a rider.
Bruised beneath the eyes, silent and stoic, actor Brady Jandreau conveys with a buzzing sense of intimacy the emotional and physical journey of his character, and for good reason: the film is inspired in large part by his own riding incident, which left him in a coma for three days during 2016. And this vulnerability — especially as a first-time actor — is a testament, I think, to the power of Zhao’s quiet eye and careful ear. She coasts along unobtrusively, relying less on obvious narrative arcs and more on subtle emotion, and in so doing invites viewers deep into the lives of her characters, deep into their troubles and their heartbreaks. The result is a profoundly moving elegy for dreamers who, as Brady’s father later tells him, must some time learn that “dreams aren’t meant to be.”