LFF Review: Chloé Zhao's 'The Rider' is an Assured, Emotional Drama

What place does a broken cowboy have in this modern world? The Rider is a gem that will reward those patient enough to discover it. Filmmaker Chloé Zhao tells a story of an injured cowboy in contemporary times who has to deal with the trials and tribulations of life, all the while yearning to get back to the rodeo. This film won an award after first premiering the Cannes Film Festival, and I finally caught up with it at the London Film Festival. I wasn't expecting to be so moved, so overwhelmed with emotions, yet I was wiping away tears by the end of the screening. Whenever a film hits me that hard and leave me sobbing by the end, that's usually a sign it's something special. This is one of those outstanding films to seek out and discover.

Chloé Zhao's The Rider is about a cowboy named Brady Blackburn, as played by Brady Jandreau, who is recovering from a dangerous head injury. He's a famous bucking bronco rider, but has to take a break now, and this makes him consider his place in life. He tries to work a few jobs helping other ranchers, breaking horses and training them, but eventually takes a job at a local grocery store. But he still dreams of the rodeo life. The cast is made up of an actual family, including his father Tim Jandreau and his sister Lilly Jandreau, which is perhaps why their performances feel so authentic and why this film seems like an intimate, verité-style documentary at times. I don't know how Zhao found them, but my goodness are they terrific together.

The Rider is as beautiful of a film about horses as it about humans. The animals are given as much attention and care as the rest of the characters, which is quite refreshing to see. It takes a bit to get going, but once you start to get to know the characters and watch them as they deal with the good and bad moments in their life, you really can understand them. Chloé Zhao's directing here is magnificent, she has such an assured sense of storytelling, and a deep understanding of humanity and emotions. She is a very talented director to watch. Start with this film, of course, and her feature debut Songs My Brothers Taught Me. She knows how to let body language say as much as the dialogue, and how to capture all the tiny nuances of real emotions.

I don't even know why exactly I started crying during the film, but I know that The Rider moved me to tears. This film wrecked me, for so many reasons. Perhaps it's because it's exhilarating seeing tough, real emotions in a film, captured so lovingly. Perhaps it's because I felt so bad for this guy, who was trying so hard to live a life doing what he loves. Perhaps it's because I felt so emotionally connected to the horses, and the people in the film. Whatever it is, I'm so glad I caught this film. It's a gem. It's best to go into this film without any expectations, without any idea what you're about to see, and let it take you on a ride. Now matter how bad things may get, as long as you keep your head up, you won't miss out on the moments that matter the most.

Alex's London 2017 Rating: 9 out of 10
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