This film recently won Golden Globe awards for Best Motion Picture Drama and Chloé Zhao (The Rider), won for Best Director-Motion Picture. The film features an outstanding performance by two-time Oscar winner Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Fargo). The film also features some wonderful cinematography, with multiple landscape scenes of the American West by Joshua James Richards (The Rider), and a memorable musical score by Ludovico Einaudi.
The film is based on the 2017 non-fiction book Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder. Many of the characters in the film are non-actors who live on the road. Some of those who are in the book show up in the film as well, playing themselves.
We learn that the USG sheetrock plant in Empire, Nevada went out of business in early 2011, after 88 years. At the time, USG employed about 100 of the 300 residents of Empire. In a scene late in the film, Fern returns to Empire, walking through her former home and the abandoned plant. Within seven months of the plant closing, the town had lost its zip code. Both Fern (Frances McDormand, who was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama for her performance), and her husband, who died of cancer, had worked at the plant. Fern has now lost her home. The film begins and ends during the holidays, with Fern singing “What Child is This?” and wishing people a happy new year. Fern takes off in her van to work a temporary position at an Amazon plant. While there, Fern is living in her van, which she will do during the entire film. She prefers to refer to herself as “houseless”, rather than “homeless”. At Amazon, Fern meets the likeable ponytailed Linda May (who plays herself), who tells her of a community of older van-dwellers led by Bob Wells (who plays himself). Fern then heads to the Arizona community. Continue reading →
New on home video and streaming services, The Rider is a well-acted film based on real events, that has some content concerns. The film is written and directed by Chloé Zhao. The film is somewhat like Clint Eastwood’s The 15:17 to Paris, in that it used real-life characters, rather than actors. As a result, the film can at times come across as a documentary, rather than a drama.
We first meet Brady Blackburn, played by Brady Jandreau, as he is pulling staples out of his head with a knife at home. Brady had checked himself out of the hospital against doctor’s wishes. He was being treated for a bad head injury from the rodeo, which resulted in Brady going into a three-day coma. The near-fatal injury left him with a metal plate in his head.
Brady had been a star bronco rider in the rodeo on a South Dakota reservation. His friends are supportive, wondering when he is going to get back to the rodeo. Brady lives with his father Wayne, (his mother has died) played by Tim Jandreau and teenage sister Lisa, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, played well by Lilly Jandreau.
Brady and his father have a contentious relationship. Wayne drinks and gambles so much that he has to sell Brady’s favorite horse just to keep their trailer. The bond between Brady and Lilly is tender, funny and genuine.
Several times we see Brady visit Lane, played by Lane Scott. Lane was a bull rider and Brady’s mentor and idol. But then Lane was badly injured in the rodeo. Now he is paralyzed and can’t speak, communicating with Brady by spelling out words with his hands. The scenes between the two are some of the most touching you will see in a film.
We see Brady vomit a few times, and the doctors tell him that his riding days are finished. Occasionally, we see his right hand seize up, the result of partial complex seizures, making him unable to let go of whatever he’s holding on to. His hand seizing served as a metaphor for Brady not being able to let go of the rodeo life that might kill him.
As he is healing, he takes a job as a stocker/clerk at a grocery store. Eventually though, Brady begins training horses again, something that he has a special gift with. We see him training a wild horse that has never been ridden in an incredible scene that led my wife to wonder if this actor had actually trained horses before. (We didn’t know when we watched the film that the real people played themselves and weren’t actors).
Eventually, Brady has to decide what to do with his life. Another blow to his head could be fatal. If he can’t ride horses, what will he do?
The film includes some wonderful scenes on the Pine Ridge Reservation and South Dakota’s Badlands (sky, horses, landscape) courtesy of cinematographer James Joshua Richards.
Content issues include a significant amount of language, including an abuse of both God’s and Jesus’ names. Themes include identity, family, friends and loss of dreams. Surprisingly, there were at least three times people prayed in the film.
The film was slow moving and emotionally draining. I kept waiting for something positive to happen in the film. It wasn’t until after the film that I read that the film felt so real because, well, it was. Brady Jandreau is a real-life rodeo rider that had a serious head injury like the character he played. His father and sister in the film are played by real-life family members. Lane Scott was not acting either. He too had suffered a serious real-life riding injury, which left him paralyzed and unable to talk. Director Zhao used people from the Pine Ridge Reservation as actors. The Rider will most be appreciated for a few scenes (Brady training the wild horse and Brady’s visits with Lane).