An almost zen-like look at the sport of bullriding, "Rank" is the latest from director John Hyams ("NYPD Blue" episodes), and it's one of the better docs I've seen in recent months. The picture follows a series of bullriders as they make their way towards Vegas, where the championships happen every October. Hyams takes an interesting approach to the whole thing: while this documentary could have been as much rock n'roll and testosterone as the sport itself, it's actually a rather peaceful work, with some beautiful cinematography, a moody score and a desire to get to the heart of what makes these people tick.
The subjects (Justin McBride, Mike Lee and two-time world champion Adriano Moraes) also surprise - these guys aren't really all macho, but mostly subdued, focused guys who are living moment-to-moment and have found themselves successful in this sport. If a rider manages to hang on and win the championships, it's a major payoff..
However, hanging on to the 8 second point and beyond (riders are required to hold on for at least 8 seconds) is the hard part. Riders are often tossed hard, occasionally stomped or worse. Many of the riders get on the bull with pins, plates or bits of metal in their legs and elsewhere. Riders have suffered near-lethal (one rider is shown having been paralyzed by injuries sustained during a ride) or fatal injuries and show scars all over their bodies as a result of rides. In one scene, Morales gives a tour of all the places where he's been injured over the years. These riders are injured horribly, then get right back up again and ride another bull the following night.
"Rank" holds up throughout its 95 minutes as an interesting look that gets under the surface of the sport and does a pretty good job at getting into the courage and craziness that it takes to get on an enormous, angry creature whose one focus is throwing them off as quickly as possible.
VIDEO: "Rank" is presented by IFC in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is a terrific presentation that only has a few minor concerns at times. Sharpness and detail are, aside from a few low-light scenes, great, as the picture appeared almost always well-defined and crisp.
Some slight shimmer and a couple of minor instances of artifacting were spotted, but the picture otherwise appeared clean, with no print flaws (although I'm guessing that this was shot on video) or edge enhancement. Colors remained natural and looked accurately presented, with no smearing or other issues.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is mainly dialogue-driven, although the scenes in the arenas open up the sound a bit more, with crowd noise coming in from the surrounds. Audio quality was fine, with crisp dialogue and effects.
EXTRAS: Director John Hyams, producer Jon Greenhalgh and co-producer Neil Fazzary offer an enjoyable audio commentary, discussing how they constructed the feature, finding out that they were not the only filmmakers covering the event and some additional behind-the-scenes details about the event and the riders. Casual and occasionally funny, this is an enjoyable track. We also get featurettes on the bull riding sessins and the score.
Final Thoughts: "Rank" provides an enjoyable look behind-the-scenes at a sport that not everyone knows about, at least in this much detail. The DVD presentation boasts fine audio/video quality and a few informative extras. Recommended for fans of the sport; others should consider a rental.