An understated elegance champions “The Rider,” a film bristling with luminous cinematography and a whiplash of emotional fervor. Part “Crazy Heart,” part “The Wrestler,” and brought to life in the dusty tundras of the Great West, this movie questions what makes a man when his ability to define himself has withered into the wind.
That man in particular is Brady (Brady Jandreu), a soft-spoken rodeo performer who lost his wild, horse-riding dreams when a wild buck kicked them right out of his head. With a six-inch-long gash on his skull and five fingers that refuse to grip, Brady’s still has the cowboy spirit but can’t hold onto the lasso to get the job done.
His days are spent then ogling magazine photos of luckier horse riders and sharing sweet “remember whens” with his buddies, since few sweet new memories can be spotted on he horizon. Plus, Brady has two disabled loved ones, one a peppy teenage sister who suffers from a mental condition, and a paralyzed bro whose implied to have experienced a similar rodeo injury. We’d expect someone to play caretaker to someone like Brady in his state, perhaps a mom or an older adult willing to mend his wounds and sooth his heart. But even in a town where everyone knows his face, few can look Brady in the eye and promise to give him the help he so desperately needs.
Directed by Chloe Zhao, “The Rider” succeeds in its meditative long takes, echoing Brady’s desire to be zen with an impossible situation. Her shots feel intimate but not forced, capturing the beauty of her characters and landscape without intrusion. One particular sequence, where Brady rides a beloved white horse for the last time, is breathtaking in its beauty, briefly pausing our awareness of this being a film and not some majestic portal into a bygone West of decades past.
Jandreau shines as Brady, conveying the silent agony and restless spirit of a man wth a lost mission. He feels castrated, someone who wants to scream into the great dusty void but feels guilty since others close to him have arguably suffered more. His real-life sister and father, Lilly and Tim, tackle those family dynamics in “The Rider,” conveying a realistic, troubled family bonded by love and scorn.
It’s a coming-of-age movie when the age has already fled far into the past, an origin story about a man whose true tale want to hear. And as “The Rider” quietly whips us from side-to-side with it’s still, lingering presence, our hearts feel full for having rode on its back.