SXSW 2010: THE RIDE Review

Meredith Danluck's The Ride, the latest production from Vice Films, captures the spectacle of modern bull riding while revealing a slice of small town Americana that is quickly fading away.

Bull riding was once the exclusive domain of rodeos. Now, busting bulls is a pro sport with its own league. Professional Bull Riders (PBR) is like the NASCAR circuit for dudes who ride bulls. PBR tours large stadiums across the United States and Mexico with a fleet of 18 wheelers. Each show is huge spectacle in which bull riders are presented like rock stars. They emerge from elevated stages in a sea of laser lights and smoke to the cheers of adoring fans. The bull rides only last a few seconds, but the stakes are high with a $1 million prize for the winner of the year's best rider. 

The Ride follows the 2008 PBR tour, and uses the long build-up to the championship event as a narrative arc. The film weaves in interviews and footage of various personalities behind involved in the sport. Many of the PBR personalities are from small towns in the Southern and Western United States. They tend to identify with small town values and a slower lifestyle than that experienced in bigger cities. Like any other sport, professional bull riding uses these elements to push a certain image to their audience. Meredith Danluck's intimate approach, which allows her to capture interesting unguarded moments, captures the reality of the sport and the people, warts and all.

Technically, The Ride is really slick. This is obvious from the very beginning: principle players are introduced in a rapid-fire opening sequence set to music by alt-country band The Weight, who provide the soundtrack. The wide-screen HD cinematography perfectly captures both the visually dense stadium events and the serene natural landscapes.

In sum, The Ride is yet another quality production from Vice Films, who are proving to be a reliable source of quality documentaries.

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