Directed: Chloé Zhao
Written: Chloé Zhao
Featuring: Brady Jandreau, Lilly Jandreau, Tim Jandreau, Lane Scott, Cat Clifford
Brady Blackburn was a rodeo star until his suffered a serious brain injury in an accident in the rodeo ring. Doctors tell him that he should no longer ride, or he could die but for Brady there is nothing else and living on the edge of poverty he has to find some way to earn money. A return to the rodeo and the possible consequences that might entail are only one decision away.
Director Chloe Zhao making the film over a short time period on a tight budget uses amateurs and non-actors throughout the film with Brady Jandreau and his family playing celluloid versions of themselves right down to the brain injury the real Brady suffered being part of this film’s narrative.
The story is slight, should a rodeo rider, who lives to ride horses, return to the rodeo after suffering an injury so serious he could die if he does? How will his future shape out when the only thing he wanted to do was be a rodeo rider and train horses? That’s it.
What Zhao has created the is slow languid mood piece here with beautiful lingering shots of the vast, spacious Badlands of Dakota being a character in itself.
With the actors being non-professionals there is now demonstrative histrionics that might be associated with this type of story, even the conflict scenes play out gently, flaring up and dying down very quickly. Some people will love this, others will find it boring. For me it reminded me more of the long, torpid, films of the 1970s that I used to like, character studies with the story playing out slowly and leisurely in front of you and a final lingering shot pay-off. That’s what you get here.
The questions it asks are myriad it will be each individual’s viewpoint on what they are. The death of the way of the life of the cowboy in the USA, is he just a rodeo entertainer and nothing else? If you have only one goal in your life how does affect you and everyone around you when your circumstances change beyond your control? Could it be about the indomitable human spirit to never give-up, to keep going or is it really foolishness? The end of the American Dream? Who knows? But underneath it all there is the tough, never-say-die, spirit that we non-Americans believe is at the heart of the USA for all of its faults and quirks. You can’t help but admire these jeans and horses people living in a vast desolate place that have seen their way of life erode over the generates with seemingly no help or support from anywhere else.