"Surviving Personal Tragedy in the American Heartland"
What You Need To Know:
THE RIDER is a nuanced, respectful, authentic tribute to the American heartland and the American cowboy written and directed by a Chinese immigrant. Ironically, it focuses on a group of ranch cowboys descended from Sioux Indians. THE RIDER is about the indomitable human spirit. The protagonist, Brady, prays to Jesus, helps another, more seriously injured rodeo star and ultimately depends on his family. However, THE RIDER contains too much gratuitous foul language and some marijuana use. This objectionable content detracts from the movie’s absorbing story. MOVIEGUIDE® advises extreme caution for THE RIDER.
THE RIDER is a well-made character-driven drama about a young rodeo star in South Dakota with a head injury who’s trying to deal with the physical and emotional complications of his injury. Played by an actual rodeo athlete with a similar story, the protagonist in THE RIDER prays to Jesus, helps another, more seriously injured rodeo star and ultimately depends on his family, but the movie contains far too much gratuitous obscene language and some marijuana use that detract from the story.
The movie opens on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation as Brady Blackburn (played by Brady Jandreau), once a rising star of the rodeo circuit, changes the bandage on his head. A gifted horse trainer, Brady was seriously injured when a horse damaged his skull at a rodeo and put him into a three-day coma. Now, he has staples along the right side of his head where the horse hit him.
Brady’s younger sister, Lilly (played by Lilly Jandreau), who has Asberger’s Syndrome, comforts her brother. There are tensions between Brady and his father, Wayne (Tim Jandreau), however. Brady’s father believes Brady is too stubborn and takes too many risks while Brady is upset by his father’s gambling habit. Their relationship hits a breaking point when Brady’s father sells Brady’s favorite horse to keep their trailer home on the reservation.
The doctors have warned Brady that his riding days are finished and want him to spend a long time resting his body. Meanwhile, Brady’s head injury sometimes causes his right hand to seize up. Brady starts working at the nearby market and spends time visiting his mentor and idol, Lane Scott, who’s paralyzed from his own rodeo accident and can no longer talk.
As time passes, Brady can’t stay away from horses. He starts training and riding them again. Eventually, however, he must decide whether to rely on his family to come to terms with his injuries or risk everything at the rodeo, the place that defined for Brady what it means to be a man.
THE RIDER is a nuanced, respectful, authentic tribute to the American heartland and the American cowboy. However, it focuses on a group of cowboys living on an Indian reservation and descended from the Oglala Lakota Sioux tribe of Native Americans. Writer and Director Chloé Zhao, herself a Chinese immigrant to America, uses real-life people on the Pine Ridge Reservation as her actors. Brady Jandreau, his father and his sister play fictionalized versions of themselves. Lilly is humorous and winsome in her role as the sister. She has the wisdom of innocence. Brady Jandreau gives a heartfelt performance as the young man who sees his dreams dashed but rallies to overcome his physical challenges by focusing on the things that truly matter. One of the movie’s joys is watching him train a horse after he decides to go back to his calling.
Ultimately, like many good movies, THE RIDER is about the indomitable human spirit. Eventually, the protagonist finds comfort and support from his family. He also finds purpose in helping his injured friend, Lane, who clearly enjoys the time Brady spends with him. These moments in the movie are rather poignant. Media-wise viewers will be interested to know that, about three times in the movie, Brady and his friends pray to God or Jesus. These scenes are an unexpected bonus.
Sadly, though, THE RIDER contains lots of strong foul language, about half or more of which are “f” words. Such language may be really what happens in the setting in which the movie occurs, as well as other parts of America. However, it adds nothing to the movie’s story, and actually detracts from it. There are also some scenes with marijuana smoking. For those reasons, MOVIEGUIDE® advises extreme caution for THE RIDER. The movie also contains some images of the staples in Brady’s head and a couple images in one scene of a horse’s leg seriously damaged by barbed wire. In that scene, Brady’s father uses Brady’s pistol to shoot the horse off screen.