Eschewing the jock-like aversion to “artiness” inherent in most sports docs, John Hyams’s contemplative snapshot of professional bull riding,
Rank, ups the ante for the form. The film profiles riders Justin McBride, Mike Lee, and Adriano Moraes as they ostensibly compete in a seven-day championship event in Las Vegas. It becomes clear that the contest is actually between man and beast, though, with the four-legged athletes having the decisive advantage; the trio’s many injuries and near-death experiences are gruelingly recounted, and a few are shown. These agonies are juxtaposed with a bull-breeding ranch in Oklahoma, where the sport’s real money lies—as well as its animal abuse (riding bulls, it turns out, are the products of pharmaceutically enabled overbreeding). Hyams unflinchingly probes his protags’ motives, from blinkered machismo to monetary gain, with a mournful, dissonant reserve that never devolves into judgment or pat conclusions. Even when several soldiers back from Iraq are trotted into the arena for a gaudy pre-competition tribute, only the most oblique analogy is implied.