Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Film Review: "The Rider" (2017).

Todd MacCarthy, of The Hollywood Reporter, noted the film as "A rare gem. CholĂ© Zhao beautifully captures the way a handful of people stoically deal with the merger hands life has felt them." Which is exactly what The Rider isThis contemporary western drama film written, produced and directed by Zhao. Based on a true story, the film centres on a once rising star of the rodeo circuit who is warned that his competition days are over after a tragic riding accident. Back home, Brady finds himself wondering what he has to live for when he can no longer do what gives him a sense of purpose: to ride and compete. In an attempt to regain control of his fate, Brady undertakes a search for new identity and tries to redefine his idea of what it means to be a man in the heartland of America.

Zhao first met Brady Jandreau during her research for her earlier film, Songs My Brothers Taught Me (2015). She visited the ranch where Jandreau was working and he was teaching her how to ride a horse. She wanted to put him in one of her films, and when he had the accident that left him with life changing head injuries, she decided to base the script for her next film on his story.

The film stars Jandreau, Lilly Jandreau, Tim Jandreau, Lane Scott, and Cat Clifford. Under Zhao's direction, the nonprofessional cast excels in a wide range of emotions. Zhao and her cast have created an emotionally compelling neo-realist portrait of a once rising rodeo star experiencing the stress and pressure of post-rodeo life. Zhao, a first time filmmaker, patiently observes these conundrums rather than passing judgment, and her stellar cast of non-professional actors delivers a great ensemble performance.

Zhao's sophomore effort is a quiet, sensitive indigenous coming-of-age story set in a contemporary American western landscape.It's an earnest, smartly mounted film about life on a present-day man of the American heartland. The slow-paced film includes a lesser known social theme - damaged individuals in the American heartland. The restrained performances and luscious location photography are enough to make this a film worth exploring, though it might not be a bad idea to down a few caffeine-rich drinks before settling in to watch. Viewers will be torn between admiring its laid-back naturalism and wishing it possessed just a little more oomph. Because her laissez-faire approach makes little effort to fit the fragmentary scenes into a tidy portrait of Jandreau, the film feels more authentic than if she had chosen to impose a tighter structure. An outsider looking in voyeurism veering offensively close to being more about the filmmaker's fixation on her immigrant alienation - if not a blatant exotic poverty porn aesthetic - than the brutal internal isolation of her subjects absent of causality. Zhao's film is imperfect, but it's a heartfelt and gorgeous one with a very timely story at its core. The film shows the potential indie cinema still holds to offer an honest vision of America.

Simon says The Rider receives:

Also, see my review for Songs My Brothers Taught Me.

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