Top Ten Movies of 2018 — Number Four

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Chloé Zhao’s The Rider is constructed with an approach that could go drastically wrong so easily, and indeed has many times in the past, even when employed by more seasoned filmmakers. The story focuses on Brady Blackburn (Brady Jandreau), a rodeo rider recovering from a nasty head injury. Told by doctors to stay off of horses during the lengthy recovery — and that it would be bad idea to continue participating in bull riding competitions after his healing process is complete — Brady is lost. Rodeos and associate ranch life have defined his existence and provided what little money he’s made.  With few other skills, his path forward is entirely unclear. What place in the world is there for people like Brady after fate renders their sole identified talent as not only unworkable, but an actual danger to them? Written by Zhao, the film is based on Jandreau’s real experiences, going so far as to cast his real family members and friends as Brady Blackburn’s family and friends. What could have been a stunt is instead a feat of cinematic verisimilitude, in large part because Zhao doesn’t simply rely on a documentary-like roughness. Instead, The Rider is lyric and lovely in its quiet creativity, the actual events properly shaped into drama. Zhao never strays from her responsibility to take the fundamental pieces Jandreau has given her and make them something more, giving the film a proper reason for being. The story contained in the film first belongs to Jandreau, and he could — and can — sit down across from someone and share it in his own words, and it would undoubtedly be affecting. And yet it wouldn’t be what has made it to the screen. It’s Jandreau’s story, but by the end it’s clear only Zhao could have made The Rider.

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