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Marina Antunes [Film Festival 10.05.11] review thriller drama

Year: 2011
Director: Michael R. Roskam
Writer: Michael R. Roskam
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Marina Antunes
Rating: 7 out of 10

Amidst the lean bodies of cattle and Flanders fields hides an ugly underworld of drug dealing. Cattle is a big industry and bigger cattle mean more money and where there's money to be made there's also organized crime.

Jacky and his family own a cattle ranch and they've been injecting their cattle with hormones for years. They stay mostly to themselves but when a murder shakes things up in the ranks, the family vet/drug genius urges Jacky to enter into a deal with a local meat magnate but Jacky is reluctant. His instincts tell him this is a bad deal but he's being pushed into it against his better judgement. This is only part of the drama which unfolds in Michael R. Roskam's debut Bullhead (Rundskop).

Much like the cattle he herds, Jacky himself takes hormones or, as he prefers to refer to them, supplements. He's built like a brick house but there's a sense from the film's early scenes that the reason for the drugs runs deeper than wanting to look good and we quickly learn Jacky's secret. In a series of flashbacks, we see Jacky and his friend Diederik (who later re-enters the picture as a police informant and a sort of errand boy for the meat magnate De Kuyper) as children and the unfolding events that turn Jacky into a user.

Bullhead weaves an underworld thriller with Jacky's personal crisis and the film's gloomy approach makes it clear that this is going to end badly on both fronts. It's a somewhat effective mix but as the underworld thriller develops, complete with comedic relief at the hands of two completely inept mechanics-turned-mobsters, and the plot thickens, the film beings to falter. Part of the problem is that the reveal of Jacky's past comes a bit too soon. One of the film's key strengths is the mystery of Jacky, the silent, socially inept giant who looms over every scene. When his mystery is revealed, the film seems to lose steam and as we settle into Jacky's sudden need to re-visit his past the entire film gets much less interesting.

Matthias Schoenaerts packed on the weight for the role of Jacky and physically, he fits the bill perfectly but I found his take on the strong silent type lacking emotion. Watching him reminded me a great deal of Tom Hardy in Warrior (review) but Schoenaerts doesn't have the same gravitas Hardy possesses and whereas Hardy manages to write the emotions on his face I found Schoenaerts a bit too distant and his take on serious sometimes looked like he was constipated. The real standout here is Jeroen Perceval whose take on Diederik is wonderfully subtle.

Bullhead has many merits: it's a gorgeous looking film (I particularly love the bathroom scenes), with some wonderfully violent scenes (are two instances of elevator violence enough to constitute a trend? I do love a good fight sequence in an enclosed space) and some good performances but what impressed me most of all is that Roskam doesn't shy away from telling a layered story. I'd rather have a film that attempts and fails than one that doesn't try at all and this one doesn't fail it simply doesn't always work. Roskam sets off with the intent to make a film with an interesting and unusal pair of parallel stories and does a darn good job of it too. Bullhead is a great debut feature from a talented director who shows great promise. Definitely one I'll be watching for in the future.

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(10 years ago) Reply

What a diss on the main character! I thought that was the brilliant approach of Schoenbaerts to give emotion in the very last sequence in the appartment of Lucia. His character is emotionally numbed but melts down slowly and then you get it in the end sequence. I think it's a magnificant performance that goes far beyond what Tom Hardy does in Warrior. Jacky is way more complex and layered. I think Schoenaerts did an amazing job


Marina (10 years ago) Reply

I know I'm in the minority, the film is getting praise across the board and I believe another screening has been added at the festival, but his character and the performance didn't work for me which made the film fall a bit flat for me. It's one I still recommend, it's engaging and well made but I didn't feel anything for the lead character beyond a bit of pity. I think he could have done more than that.


(10 years ago) Reply

your truly wrong I guess,you should see it again. I've seen the film twice and was stunned even more the second time. The character is emotionally handicapped, everything is hidden under this bunker of muscles he created for himself.But still Schoenaerts manages to emit a permanent danger,confusion and vulnerability at the same time.... I was blown away by it even more when I watched it the second time

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