After watching Chloé Zhao’s “The Rider,” I wasted 10 or 15 minutes trying to put together a list of all the cowboy-related films I’ve watched in my lifetime, but there is no room for that here.

Westerns, to paraphrase Bogart’s fictional Sam Spade, “are the stuff dreams are made of.”

But Zhao’s film is something different. We are in the new West in Zhao’s film and it’s made up of the stuff rodeo riders dream of, horse manure, sawdust, blood, whiskey, cowgirl bartenders and true friendship.

In a way, that’s America, and it hasn’t changed since the Earp Brothers took down the Clantons at the O.K. Corral, and certainly not since Steve McQueen, Robert Mitchum or Luke Perry played out the deadly “8 Seconds,” the time required for a bull rider to stay aboard.

But “The Rider” is about a different sort of rider. It’s about those saddled gladiators who take spirited animals out into those modern coliseums to take home the honors.

We meet Brady Blackburn (played by Brady Jandreau). Blackburn was thrown from his horse in a small time rodeo and kicked in the head. Jandreau, who like his character, suffered the same devastating head injury two years ago as seen in the film.

He escapes death but goes home with a steel plate in his head and a hole in his life.

Blackburn wasn’t a magazine cover rodeo rider to begin with, and minutes after he’s taken from the sawdust floor he is replaced with another cowboy rider, another victim of betting too much of life’s currency on a crowded game.

Blackburn has a special needs sister named Lilly Blackburn (played by Jandreau’s sister Lilly) and a special needs friend, Lane Scott (playing himself) who suffered trauma after he too was thrown to the ground and kicked.

Lane now lives in an assisted living home where he communicates by drawing words in the air that Blackburn, with soft tones and patience, translates.

It may be that perhaps Brady Blackburn has been inserted here at this time and placed as some sort of angel with broken wings that cannot serve Lane, but who is gifted with ears that hear the human heart like no other.

After Brady Blackburn collapses on the prairie, a doctor tells him his dream is dead. But Zhao is telling us the broken parts have only been rearranged to deliver new hope to other wounded souls.

When Brady Blackburn reaches what looks like the bottom, a desperate rancher frustrated by several difficult horses offers him a job as a trainer, and the lost boy rises to become a horse whisperer.

The film at times seems to go calm and dry, but it’s rescued by Brady Blackburn’s sweetness and Zhao’s talent.

The Brady Blackburn we see here may well be a natural actor; time will tell.

What we’re offered is a compilation of Jimmy Dean’s Jett Rink in “Giant” and Henry Fonda’s Tom Joad in John Ford’s “Grapes of Wrath.”

We should not be surprised to hear the nostalgic strains of Ford’s iconic harmonica music floating in and around Brady’s prairie.

And if Ford, an Irish boy from Portland, Maine, was born to create the great rough shod American movie West, why then should it not fall upon a young Chinese artist from Bejing to bring her sweet and gentle touch to Ford’s harsh and arid West.

Zhao also wisely uses the delicacy of cinematographer Joshua James Richard’s sensitive hand to give us the Dakota winds, the full moon and unforgiving sun.

Zhao, a Chinese writer-director on her second fling at the Cannes film festival took her “The Rider” to win the top honors Art Cinema Award. Certainly the future is hers and Brady Blackburn’s friend.

J.P. Devine, of Waterville, is a former stage and film actor.

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