Chloé Zhao’s poetic docudrama follows a young rodeo cowboy who’s been sidelined by a grave injury, the result of a catastrophic fall off a horse. With the prospect that he might die if he ever rides again, Brady (played by real-life rodeo star Brady Jandreau, whose own life and injury inspired the film) struggles with the idea of a future without the one activity that gave his life meaning.
The casting and skilful direction of a full cast of non-actors (including Brady’s autistic sister and his paraplegic best friend and rodeo inspiration, Lane Scott, playing fictionalized versions of themselves) achieves a beautifully nuanced ensemble performance and brings a stylistic freshness to the story. When Brady brings his horse-whispering skills to bear, we are watching the real thing as he patiently and skillfully wins the trust of the horse. This is no Hollywood cowboy.
Zhao’s film transcends its documentary format, evolving into a work of artistic fiction. The exceptional cinematography captures the poetic grandeur of the location and contrasts the deeply intimate struggles of the characters. The beauty of the South Dakota landscape and the relationship the cowboys have with it is juxtaposed with the squalid shacks, dreary hospitals and soulless big-box stores that are Brady’s reality after his accident.
This is a story of masculinity and identity told with tremendous heart and soul by a director with skill, vision and a deep connection to her subject.