Brady Jandreau, Tim Jandreau, Lilly Jandreau
New from American-based Chinese director Chloé Zhao is this yearning, impressionistic docudrama portrait of the American heartland; winner of the Art Cinema Award at Cannes 2017, where it screened in Director’s Fortnight.
After suffering a near fatal head injury, young South Dakota cowboy Brady Blackburn (played by Brady Jandreau, a rodeo star on whose real-life story the narrative is based) awakens to be told by doctors he must give up the sport for fear of further injury. But Brady needs to support his family – his sweet sister Lily, who has learning difficulties and his drinking, womanising, gambling father Wayne – and the rodeo is his passion as well as his lifeline. Without it, he must go in search for a new identity, exploring what it means to be a man in the heartland and how he might carve out a new life within it.
It’s an indisputably authentic film, with its docudrama feel further enhanced by the non-professional, also familial casting – Jandreau’s real-life sister and father play Lily and Wayne; Brady’s beloved friend, fellow injured rodeo rider Lane Scott plays himself – in a way that continually integrates the lives of the actors into the film, so they seem to be not so much performing as (very movingly) investigating versions of themselves. Set against the dusty, expansive landscapes of the Dakotas, Zhao embraces the humanity of her characters as she studies modes of contemporary masculinity without glorification or judgement. What results is less a western, though it contains all the visual hallmarks of one, than a deeply investigative and curious portrait of the internal American west.
“This impressive, stylish bronco rider drama bucks the trend” The Guardian ★★★★