MOVIE REVIEW: The Rider

THE RIDER (2018)

1 Hour and 44 Minutes (R)

When you ask someone to define the Western genre, it’s likely that the first thing they mention will be Cowboys and Indians or Cowboys and Outlaws, and it’s true that most films follow this formula. Even more modern Westerns like Hell or High Water and Wind River have high stakes shootouts that eventually come to bear. That’s not the case with writer-director Chloé Zhao’s film, though, and this cowboy drama is likely more Western than any of them.

The Rider follows the life of rodeo star Brady Blackburn (Brady Jandreau) as he tries to come to terms with the ramifications of a recently suffered near fatal injury. Blackburn’s challenge lies in having no other skill set. As a Lakota cowboy on the Pine Ridge Reservation and lacking any advanced education, all he knows is breaking horses and riding bulls. He’s good at it, and feels like it’s his calling, telling his sister Lilly (Lilly Jandreau), “I believe God gives each of us a purpose. For a horse it’s to run across the prairie. For a cowboy, it’s to ride.” But as the story progresses it becomes very clear that Brady’s injuries could result in permanent harm, or worse death. He’s left struggling with a question many can relate to – what do you do when you can’t do the only thing you know how to do well?

Key in Brady’s life (along with his younger sister who suffers from Asperger’s syndrome) are his father Wayne (Tim Jandreau) and closest friend Lane (Lane Scott). Lane also is recovering from life-threatening injuries, but unfortunately is paralyzed and unable to speak while being confined to a wheelchair in a hospital room. This relationship is central to Brady’s conflict. When out with local friends and family, he leans much more toward wanting to quite literally “get back on the horse”. But he also spends much of his time visiting and assisting with Lane’s rehabilitation, in one late scene holding the man’s hands in his own as if they were reigns and pretending to help him ride an imaginary horse. It’s in Lane’s pain that we see Brady wrestle with the obvious potential consequences if he continues to ride against the doctor’s advice.

The truth behind the story is almost more intriguing than what is on screen, though. Brady, his father, sister, and Lane are all played by the actual people who experienced this. That is to say, they are dramatically reenacting the events of their own lives. Even the locals are played by non-trained actors, and what’s incredible is that you can hardly tell. Zhao’s bold choice to do this seemingly pays off in the performance given by Brady. In a film with little dialogue, she relies on images and an understated soundtrack to do much of the emotional heavy lifting. The film is gorgeously shot too, capturing the landscape in its natural beauty, unmarred by modernized buildings and technology. Everything comes together and although it certainly moves at a slow pace, sitting with Brady as he drifts through this new version of his life trying to find his way is a powerful experience for every moment.

VERDICT

In The Rider, Chloé Zhao presents a much softer view of the rodeo cowboy life than audiences are used to seeing. Brady’s intelligence shows, and his internal dilemma between what he wants and what is best plays out in ways that are both painful and touching. The real-life portrayal of the Jandreau family adds another layer of realism, as well, creating a level of personal connection to the characters that may not have been reachable otherwise. As both a moving piece of storytelling and cinematic achievement, The Rider excels, and is definitely a slice-of-life Western ride worth taking.

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Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

MOVIE REVIEW: RBG

RBG (2018)

1 Hour and 37 Minutes (PG)

“I dissent.” – Ruth Bader Ginsburg

RBG begins with a camera tour of Washington landmarks, backed by classical music and hateful comments about Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It is a somewhat electrifying beginning and one that implies a fast-paced, exciting documentary, setting up what is sure to be a rebuttal of those opening comments. This scene, however, is a bit of an outlier as the filmmaking style generally used is much more bland, with the exception of one section that focuses on Ginsburg’s rise to pop culture icon. That isn’t to say it’s bad, but it certainly doesn’t break any new ground in terms of how the story is being told.

Despite not being the most compelling documentary with regards to style, RBG’s story about the life of the tiny 85-year old Supreme Court Justice is fascinating. Before becoming the second-ever female justice on the Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg worked tirelessly as an attorney, making a name for herself in sex discrimination cases, famously saying “I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren, is that they take their feet off our necks.” It’s only in her older age that Ginsburg reached a certain legendary status among the public, though, and it is incredibly interesting to learn how and why she became determined to fight for women’s rights as an attorney. Ultimately, Ginsburg reaches the Supreme Court and becomes known as “The Great Dissenter”. The documentary does an excellent job of showing how she maintained close friendships with conservative judges like Antonin Scalia despite vastly differing opinions and covers several of her higher profile cases, though sadly not with the level of detail most would like.

Outside of the courtroom, RBG introduces us to Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a daughter, parent, grandmother, and wife. These more intimate sections of the film are extremely straightforward and exist to establish her character, as well as tell a touching love story between she and husband Marty. One granddaughter’s insight is extremely telling and defines the Justice Ginsburg we have come to know, telling us “She taught me that the way to win an argument is not to yell because that will more often turn people away rather than bring them to your table.” In being this calm, relentless source of dissent to those who would marginalize the rights of the minority for any reason, Ginsburg became an icon to a younger generation, even garnering the nickname “Notorious R.B.G.”, a play on the name famous rapper, Biggie Smalls, The Notorious B.I.G. The most entertaining part of this portion of the film is perhaps seeing Justice Ginsburg’s reaction to her fame, giggling in delight as humbled by the support as she was fierce behind a bench.

VERDICT

RBG provides biographical insight into both the personal life of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her lasting impact on the laws of this nation. Though nothing artistically interesting, the history lesson for those who know nothing (or little) of this great woman’s work is nonetheless a powerful and important one.

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Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.