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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Heart-Rending True Story
by Diana Saenger

The freedom we have in America to live the life we want is guaranteed in print. However, it can come easy for some and a hardship for others. In The Rider, based on a true story, Brady Blackburn (Brady Jandreau) and his family discovered this while living in the South Dakota plains. Things are not easy for this family. Brady longs to ride in the rodeo, so he spends his time training.

When he’s severely injured with a head injury and told he can’t ride anymore, Brady’s dreams are challenged. He gets little symphony from his father Wayne (Tim Jandreau) who spins most of his time and money gambling and drinking at the casino. This leaves Brady to make his own way while also keeping an eye on his younger sister Lily (Lily Jandreau).

Even with a steel plate in his head, Brady still dreams of riding again.  He removes everything holding him down in his hospital bed and leaves the hospital. At home he faces a lot of decisions. Money is always a problem in the Jandreau home, and Wayne insists Brady give up horses and get a real job. It’s the last thing he wants to do, for the open prairie keeps his heart pumping and his dreams still a possibility.  But eventually Brady realizes he is not ready to return to the rodeo. He still can’t curl his fingers to be able to hold on to the ropes. He finally gives in and gets a job at a local grocery.

In his off time Brady ventures to a nearby friend and decides to train one of his horses. This enables him to find some solace. It’s here where actor Brady Jandreau shows real feelings of despair as he opens his heart and fuels the hearts of the audience with true symphony. Thanks to amazing cinematography by Joshua James Richards, Brady’s desire to get back to riding is as vibrant as the lovely panoramas of a South Dakota sunset.

Brady is happy for a while but still aware of what he can do and should not do. He goes to visit Lane Scott (Lane Scott), a very young rider who was the feature star of rodeo until he had a life-changing fall. Only in his 20s, he is now paralyzed, unable to speak, and in an assisted-living home. Brady treats him like a family member, which peps up Lane’s spirit but makes Brady wonder what his own future will be.

Brady Jandreau makes us feel what he feels in prominent scenes such as when he’s with the horses. His whisper and gentle hand on their heads bond them together. The same emotional impact occurs when he visits his mother’s gravesite and tells her, “I was tough, Mom.”

Another touching moment involves Brady hanging out with his friends, including Victor Chasing Hawk (Derrick Janis) who plays the guitar and tells the group they should pray every day because they need it. “Hope he gets to ride again and feel the wind in his back and watch it go through the grass. We are Him and He is us,” says Victor Chasing Hawk, who then adds words in his native language.

Director/writer Chloé Zhao has created a beautiful film that hits hearts sadly while offering a further look at a journey of reality that could become our own story at any time.  She also filmed Songs My Brothers Taught Me (2015) at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Their harmony comes across as very heart rending.

(Released by Sony Pictures Classics and rated “R” for language and drug use.)

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