The Rider: Chloe Zhao creates a new Western hero

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In American culture the cowboy lives as a mythic figure, thanks in large part to the cinema and John Wayne, a man of modern legend. In The Rider, Chloe Zhao uses these same cinematic tools to deconstruct not just the cowboy, but a certain masculine ideal of what it means to be a hero. After sustaining a fatal head injury, Brandy Blackburn (Brandy Jandreau) must confront what it means to give up his life’s work as a cowboy. Zhao transfigures Blackburn’s desires and frustrations onto the landscape, juxtaposing a young-man with no hope against ranges that offer seemingly endless possibilities. With steady pacing, she displays a maturity for storytelling and character development, reminiscent of Kelly Reichardt and Claire Denis. Jandreu as Blackburn channels a vortex of conflict onto his body, forced to find reprieve in places where he doesn’t know how to. Bringing to the fore the ghosts of the Western’s past into modernity, Zhao asks, what does it mean to be a man?

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