Ride through the pain. That’s the cowboy way. And the stunning “The Rider” is a lived in, honest, hard and gut-wrenching portrayal of the realities and difficulties of the cowboy way.
Real-life cowboy Brady Jandreau is Brady Blackburn in this story that’s largely based on his life. In it, he stars as a rodeo rider recovering from a difficult accident that left him with a long row of staples in his head. The lengthy scar you see along the right side of his skull in the opening scenes of the film? That’s really his.
Jandreau’s father and sister also play versions of themselves, and his rodeo rider buddy Lane Scott — who was paralyzed and left unable to speak after a devastating riding accident — appears as himself. Like Clint Eastwood’s “The 15:17 to Paris,” “The Rider” is a fictionalized version of a true story starring those who lived it, and it makes for fascinating drama.
After being bucked from his horse, Blackburn is told to not ride again. Riding is all he has ever known; he has no education, no skills, no other dreams. You might as well take away his lungs.
Writer-director Chloé Zhao captures Jandreau exquisitely, and Jandreau radiates a raw quiet that comes off as naturally as the film’s breathtaking landscapes. Zhao lets the film unfold in an unhurried fashion; there are long, unbroken shots of Jandreau riding across the South Dakota plains, and a mesmerizing scene where he tames a horse in real time.
“The Rider” is the most authentic portrait of an athlete since “The Wrestler,” and its details are so real you can taste them, smell them and feel them on your skin. My my, what a ride.
Rated R: for language and drug use
Running time: 105 minutes
At the Landmark Main Art