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Ride Review: Sombre Western with Very Little Bite

Three cowboys talk to each other in a circle in a still from the film Ride

Ride is a beautifully shot modern-day Western, but Jake Allyn’s slow-moving film about loss and grief lacks necessary plot and pacing to retain audience sympathy.

Director: Jake Allyn
Genre: Drama, Western
Run Time: 108′
US Release: June 14, 2024 in select theaters and digital
UK Release: TBA

Director and writer Jake Allyn’s latest thriller, Ride, sets out to be a different cowboy drama. Allyn and co-writer Josh Plasse show a darker, grittier side to life in the American West. Rather than depicting familiar macho characters of the Western, Ride depicts the desperate modern-day plight of a rural Texas family seeking funding for the cancer treatment of the family’s young daughter.

Such subject matter has become more familiar to cinema audiences in recent years. New Westerns have retreated from the rugged, gunslinging glamour of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Instead, films like Ethan and Joel Coen’s No Country for Old Men (2011) use well-known conventions of American Westerns to expose modern-day realities of rural crime and addiction in America.

One of Ride’s strengths is that it paints a poignant picture of rodeo life in rural Texas. Allyn has assembled an excellent cast, with experienced character actors like Forrie J. Smith in supporting roles. The setting is familiar territory for Allyn, who produced Conor Allyn’s No Man’s Land (2021), a vigilante drama set on the U.S./Mexico border. Allyn’s directorial experience means he should be well-placed to produce an adventurous film that defies the stock expectations of conventional Western cinema.

However, Allyn’s Ride, set in present-day Stephenville, Texas, lacks the necessary structure and pacing to reach its full potential. C. Thomas Howell plays Ride’s main hero, John Hawkins, an aging and world-weary rodeo bull rider grappling with the physical toll of his profession. John is a once talented player on the rodeo circuit who gave up his career to become a father to his son, Peter. A few decades later, John is now the head of a dysfunctional family with three generations of bull riders.

Family members in Ride include Peter, now estranged, played by Allyn, who fits in performing alongside his directing role. He also has another son, the clean-cut Noah (played by the film’s writer Josh Plasse). John also has an eleven-year-old daughter, Virginia (Zia Carlock), with his wife, Monica (Annabeth Gish), an official in the local police office. When we first meet the Hawkins family, Peter has been in Texas State Penitentiary after a conviction for a hit-and-run accident. A shock cancer diagnosis for Virginia throws the family into further turmoil. A pioneering new cell therapy programme in a state-of-the-art Las Colinas Hospital is the only hope of extending Virginia’s young life.

A sheriff and a man hold hands sitting in a waiting room in a still from the film Ride
Ride (Photo by Fab Fernandez, Courtesy of Well Go USA)

Ride’s intimate focus on the Hawkins family is compelling. The family’s hardships are closely depicted, and the fine acting makes their desperation palpable to audiences. Howell, in particular, has the charisma to carry Ride‘s most moving and memorable moments. You can sense John’s quiet despair as he runs into a series of obstacles when financing Virginia’s treatment, which threatens to rise to $160,000. John is already in debt to loan sharks. Health insurance companies demand extortionate deposits before agreeing to Virginia’s payment plan. By the time things get desperate, you certainly feel and understand his anguish.

Ride‘s plot begins to weaken when Peter enters the picture, and Virginia’s plight brings estranged father and son together. They agree to a robbery to secure the money for Virginia’s treatments. An unexpected fatality at the heist leads to severe consequences that pulls in Monica, in her role as a police officer, and leaves her in a severe moral predicament. From this point on, Allyn doesn’t take advantage of crucial opportunities in Ride to generate sympathy for the Hawkins family. Close moments between family members are often peppered with jarring bursts of aggression and violence.

The soundtrack is also too sentimental for Ride‘s subject matter. It repeatedly leans on sweet and syrupy country music to convey the film’s themes and meanings. Even in a confrontational scene between father and son, a background singer croons about “the worst things in life bringing us together”, further accentuating the movie’s sentimental tone. Allyn seems unable to create and resolve tension within the on-screen action and relies on the more clichéd elements of the Western to convey the film’s themes. This is a pity, since there are other compelling scenes in Ride.

Some of the strongest scenes in Ride are in the rodeo. Allyn’s camerawork conveys the profession’s in-your-face aggression. “Ride the bull, ride the bull” is a mantra the family tells and repeats to themselves. The metaphor for Hawkins’ life plays well alongside these visceral scenes that emphasise physical stress and endurance. Ultimately, Allyn’s ability to heighten tension through high-adrenaline action sequences is compromised by a tendency to allow his characters to revert to stereotypes. Moments of sensitivity and emotion are too infrequent in Ride and are drowned out by cartoonish depictions of violence.

Ride is a beautifully shot film that becomes too pondering early on in its plot, and that would have benefited from a leaner and more ruthless edit that would have allowed the action to pick up the pace. Unfortunately, this slower pace doesn’t lead to nuance, and by the end of the movie, the viewer will feel by the closing scenes that Ride wasn’t entirely worth the journey.

Get it on Apple TV

Ride will be released in select US theaters and on digital platforms on June 14, 2024

Ride: Film Trailer (Well Go USA)

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