This beautiful, contemplative docudrama empathetically examines the psychological and physical impact on a cowboy of no longer being able to do what he was born to do. With it, writer-director Chloé Zhao has breathed new life into the modern western.
Set in the American heartlands against the awe-inspiring landscape of South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, it follows cowboy Brady Blackburn (real-life horseman Brady Jandreau) whose life and purpose are thrown into question when he’s tossed from his bronco during a rodeo. Following a three-day coma, Brady wakes up to find a metal plate in his skull and the news that he can never ride in the rodeo again.
Zhao has based the story on Jandreau’s life, employing a deft and delicate touch that never exploits the true-life events for crass dramatic effect. Watching Brady sit around the campfire with his pals, musing on what his life will look like as a cowboy who can’t compete, we feel his anguish. We are enraged when his gambling-addict father (Brady’s real dad, Tim Jandreau) tells him to ‘cowboy up’ about the situation. And we feel the loss in scenes where Brady visits his pal, former bucking-bull rider Lane Scott who’s in permanent rehabilitation following an accident, to watch videos of their glory days in the ring.
All of this results in a dignified portrait of a young man searching for new meaning in his life, told with rare honesty. The full effect is nothing short of magnificent.