REVIEW: The Rider

Review by Dustin Heller (@eatindywatchindie on Instagram)

The Rider is the new independent drama film from the creative mind of writer, director, and producer, Chloé Zhao.  After premiering at Cannes last year, the film went on to nab five Independent Spirit Award nominations earlier this year, including Best Picture.  The Rider has already become a huge success for the second-time filmmaker.  The stars of the film are not professional actors but rather the inspiration of the characters they’re playing.  Shot in the badlands of South Dakota, the film stars Brady Jandreau, Lilly Jandreau, Tim Jandreau, Lane Scott and Cat Clifford.  The Rider is rated R for language and drug use.

Brady Blackburn was an up-and-coming star on the rodeo circuit until a tragic riding accident forced him out of the sport he loved.  All Brady has known his entire life is riding horses and being a cowboy, and now he’s left to pick up the pieces and find new meaning in life.  While living on a ranch with his dad and his special needs sister, Brady spends his days doing whatever he can to make ends meet.  When everyone and everything around him is all about the one thing he can’t pursue, it’s time for him to look inside and truly find himself.

The Rider is more an expression of art than it is a movie–and I mean that in a good way.  The filmmaking is very raw and organic and almost feels like a documentary. To some, it might even come across as amateur.  It is a beautiful story that is told in a beautiful way.  It doesn’t have an overly dramatic score to drive emotion or big special effects to elevate the “wow” factor.  It is simply a film about a young man who is trying to find his place in this world, no more, no less.  The choice to use untrained actors to tell the story is bold and daring but also pays huge dividends with the intense realism it portrays.

The film is very fluid as it flows from scene to scene and the badlands is as big of a part of the film as the lead characters themselves.  The ethereal style of filmmaking shown here by Zhao reminds me of one of the truly great auteurs of our time, the enigmatic Terrance Malick.  This is obviously very high praise, but I believe she is truly an up and coming talent.

The Rider is arthouse cinema through and through, and wasn’t made to be consumed by the masses.  That being said, film lovers and cinefiles do not want to miss out on this elegant film.

Grade:  B+

The Rider opens in Indianapolis on Friday, May 18