Eight seconds lasts forever. That’s how long you have to stay on a bucking bull to begin racking up points, and it’s the points that determine the winner of the PBR (Professional Bull Riders) Championship. That man takes home a check for a million dollars and a gold belt buckle; along the way he is beaten, battered, stomped and gored – a doctor says that when you treat bull riders you see the same basic injuries as you do in a serious car crash.
Rank follows three men competing for that championship in 2004 – Justin McBride comes from a family of bull riders (his grandfather was killed bull riding) and he has never won the big prize, always getting injured in the final days. Mike Lee is a born again Christian with the scar from bull-induced brain surgery still visible on his skull. Adriano Moraes comes from Brazil and has been riding bulls professionally since he was 18. The competition isn’t so much between the men but between the men and the bulls, and it’s completely insane. They will ride every day for seven days, getting progressively more and more injured, riding with broken bones, ripped ligaments and subdural hemotomas.
Masculinity has been redefined heavily in the last few decades, often by people like me. But watching these men get on these animals, night after night, no matter how much they hurt, reminds you that there’s an almost mythic level of masculinity, one that is inextricably connected to the American West. These three men are figures from another world, living a life that most of us only imagined as kids.
What drives them to ride bulls, despite the pain and despite the look of terror in their wives and mothers’ eyes every time they hit the dirt and don’t get up? Rank doesn’t really answer that, but I don’t think these guys even really know. They do what they do and they believe what they believe, all just because they do. The word simple is tempting to use, but maybe focused is better. Or maybe they are simple, and that word has just come to mean the wrong thing.
Director John Hyams has crafted his film with admirable equilibrium – he balances personal stories, real life sports melodrama, sociological and political observation with insight into this arcane world. I found myself endlessly engrossed and wondering why no one has been able to turn this sport into a decent narrative film. The drama and violence is inherent, and Hyams has captured it perfectly.
Rank airs on IFC Monday, October 9th at 9. Click here for other dates and times.