Directed by Chloe Zhao
Written by Chloe Zhao
Starring Brady Jandreau, Lilly Jandreau, Tim Jandreau, Lane Scott, Cat Clifford
Chloe Zhao’s second film, “The Rider” is as much an examination of family dynamics as it is the drive of the human spirit. It premiered in the Directors’ Fortnight section at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival where Sony Pictures Classics acquired the film.
Ms. Zhao’s film is centered around a young man, Brady Blackburn who is driven to be a rodeo champion. An accident during a rodeo causes him to fall off of his horse resulting in a serious injury to his brain. His recovery from that injury is the basis for this compelling story.
There are many compelling reasons to watch this film. None is more remarkable than the fact that Ms. Zhao was able to cast untrained actors in their respective roles. Brady’s struggle to recover and his desire to get back into the saddle is a compelling enough reason to watch this story unfold. Ms. Zhao layered in Brady’s real life family members into the film in an effort to heighten the drama and the emotional impact of Brady’s story.
As he is recovering, his family is suffering. His dad, Wayne is an alcoholic and is barely making ends meet. Wayne is played by Tim Jandreau, Brady’s real-life dad. Brady’s sister Lilly is in need of constant support as she lives with Down syndrome. Lilly is played by Brady’s real-life sister, Lilly Jandreau.
Ms. Zhao’s story is full of many poignant moments which characterize his internal struggle as well as his physical struggle. One of the side effects of the brain injury is uncontrolled spasms. We are witness to one such event during the course of the film; the physicality of the spasm is so visceral.
On the other side of the spectrum, family and friends are as important to his recovery as they are to the story. There’s a scene in the middle of the film where Brady and his friends are sitting around a campfire, under the open night skies. The scene concerns itself with his friends’ desires to see the best for him. But Brady has other ideas. Cinematographer Joshua James Richards and Ms. Zhao exemplify Brady’s desires with brilliant night sky full of stars.
The campfire scene is a turning point in the story as Brady realizes that he must take action for the family. And that’s the crux of the story – his struggle to adapt between his desires and his responsibilities.
The ever vibrant Lilly questions something at one point and Brady responds. As this interaction occurs where you can see a fiery spirit in Lilly; her eyes say so much and I wanted nothing more than to hug her as I watched the film. I appreciated her independence and her thirst for knowledge. More importantly, he recognized that he needed to take care of himself so that he could be there for his sister in the future.
I had a chance to sit down with Brady at this year’s South by Southwest. His demeanor is as fiery in person as it is on screen; we’re getting the real Brady. Knowing this, his struggle to want to recover so that he can get back into the saddle is so much more personal. Ms. Zhao’s confidence in this story and her cast also serve to paint an authentic picture of life in South Dakota’s Sioux community.
Brady’s story is the very essence of humanity and humility and Ms. Zhao perfectly captures that essence through desire, responsibility, struggle and ultimately, family. During this hero’s journey, you are empathetic, but you never pity Brady’s struggles because his indomitable spirit and his courage to persevere represent the best human traits.
4 out of 4 stars