Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Movie Review: The Rider

The Rider **** / *****
Directed by: Chloé Zhao.
Written by: Chloé Zhao. 
Starring: Brady Jandreau (Brady Blackburn), Tim Jandreau (Wayne Blackburn), Lilly Jandreau (Lilly Blackburn), Cat Clifford (Cat Clifford), Terri Dawn Pourier (Terri Dawn Pourier), Lane Scott (Lane Scott), Tanner Langdeau (Tanner Langdeau), James Calhoon (James Calhoon), Derrick Janis (Victor Chasing Hawk).
The Rider is a deeply humanistic, empathetic film about the kind of people we don’t see too much on movie screens. Director Chloe Zhao has made one of the best neo-realist films in recent years, shooting her film on location in South Dakota, and using real life people to play versions of themselves. It is a portrait of lower class America that doesn’t condescend to its characters, not exploits them. It is a beautiful film, recalling the work of Terrence Malick, without being beholden to its influences. It is a quietly moving film.
The film opens with Brady (Brady Jandreau) removing staples from his head. He is Lakota Sioux, and makes his living as a cowboy – training horses, but also riding in the rodeo. He has recently taken a nasty fall, and has ended up with a metal plate in his head – and doctors telling him to stop riding. He cannot afford another head injury – and he’s not even over this one, as sometimes his right hand will not open, a result of mini-seizures. Brady knows all too well what could happen – his best friend Lane Scott also rode in the rodeo, and is now stuck permanently in a rehab facility – unable to speak, and barely move, he speaks using sign language – another injury because of the rodeo. But what is Brady supposed to do? He’s about 20 years old, has no real education, and doesn’t know how to do anything except ride. He lives with his father Wayne (Tim Jandreau), a rather quiet man, who has drinking and gambling problems that put their trailer at risk, and his sister Lily (Lily Jandreau) who has developmental issues. He ends up working at DakotaMart (which I guess is what you have when your area is too remote for a Walmart) – and training horses when he can.
Zhao met Jandreau before his injury, and was already planning on making a movie with him – but the injury took the film in a different way, and in many ways gave it its shape. It’s clear that although the movie is scripted by Zhao, it comes out of her being there with Jandreau, his family and friends, and getting to them on a deeper level than most filmmakers do. There isn’t a false note hit in the film, which is not always the case when real people play versions of themselves (I’m looking at you, The 15:17 to Paris). Part of the advantage of casting someone like Jandreau to play himself is that he is so comfortable with the horses – some of the best scenes in the movie are simply him training them, slowing building up trust with them, and eventually riding them. You can train actors to look the part, but they never get this genuine. Jandreau and the other non-professionals also do a great job with the more dramatic scenes as well though – this isn’t a movie with a lot of fake fights or yelling, the conflicts are lower key than that, and feel genuine. The great cinematography by Joshua James Richards is beautiful when it captures the wide open spaces the movie takes place in, but it’s just as good as it observes Brady himself, getting inside his head a little bit.
The Rider is not a film that you can really spoil – it isn’t a plot heavy film, and at times it’s fair to say that the film meanders, although it does so in a mostly pleasurable way. Zhao and company also (mostly) sidestep some dialogue and metaphors that border on being too obvious and clunky. It is a quietly beautiful and touching film – having moments that can bring you to tears, although it is not an overly sad or manipulative movie. It’s a film that marks Zhao as one of the best, most interesting young filmmakers working. I cannot wait to see what she makes next.

No comments:

Post a Comment