Title: The Rider
Genre: Drama, Western
Director/Writer: Chloé Zhao 赵婷
Music: Nathan Halpern
Cinematography: Joshua James Richards
Emergent director Chloé Zhao’s second feature (she is the step daughter of comedienne/actress Song Dandan, a household name in China), THE RIDER, continues her uncharacteristic heed to USA’s vast west, her debut SONGS MY BROTHERS TAUGHT ME (2015) is a Native American drama, and here, she magically wields a doc-fiction conceit into the story about a former rodeo star Brady Blackburn (real-life cowpoke Brady Jandreau), it starts with the aftermath of a severe accident during a competition, which basically sounds the death knell of his rodeo career.
Having garnered umpteen plaudits worldwide since its Cannes debut in 2017, the categorical critic darling, THE RIDER is a stunning slow-burner reminisces of Malick’s early works mostly in availing itself of natural lights to adumbrate the outlines of Badlands’ majestic pulchritude, whether is the twilit afterglow or lit up by a bonfire in the night.
It is a curate’s egg to cast non-professionals to play themselves, as borne out by the recent fiasco of Clint Eastwood’s THE 15:17 TO PARIS (2018), but Zhao elicits great empathy in our hero Brady Jandreau, a handsome, taciturn young man exudes a charismatic aura of inscrutability on top of his cowboy’s intrinsic stubbornness, who makes Brady’s gradual transition into accepting his condition heartfelt in every step: from his thinly-veiled attempt to fast-track his way back on the saddle (Jandreau dazzles in his aptitude of taming unbroken broncos), to the mirror-image of his possible future in the physical form of his hero, fellow rider Lane Scott, paralyzed after the high-risk career hazard (Zhao brilliantly nails her anti-sensationalism colors to the mast), to finally thinking better of his masochistic last hurrah à la Darren Aronofsky’s THE WRESTLER (2008), after all, human, is not a tamed animal who has no volition of deciding its own destiny.
Zhao triumphantly debunks the unrealistic facade of American heroism, rodeo is his undimmed vocation, that is beyond doubt, but for a young Brady, it isn’t equivalent to his whole life, the most difficult part in life is to reconcile oneself with the options they has, and let go the impractical ones, no matter how hard it seems. Under Zhao’s touchingly humanitarian sensibility, the ending emerges as a quiet victory when Brady embraces his responsibilities (Brady living with his single father Wayne and has an autistic younger sister Lily to take care of, played by his own father and sister, Tim and Lyly Jandreau), and braves a new, uncertain future ahead.
A hearty entry of modern Western cinema, THE RIDER is Chloé Zhao’s stepping stone of a belatedly proliferation of female filmmakers in Hollywood, accelerated by the Time’s Up momentum, along with the more seasoned names like Kelly Reichardt, Dee Rees, Debra Granik, Lynne Ramsay, Greta Gerwig, Andrea Arnold, Patty Jenkins, just to name a few, together they represent an unstoppable torrent of change in the movie industry’s near future, Zhao, a distinctive new blood among them, whose prospect is sheer immeasurable.