Opening with a sombre narration that tells us we're all f**ked, this Oscar-nominated downer is a curious one. It sets itself up as a low-level crime movie but pulls back into a character study before exploring an unrequited romance. It also manages to squeeze in a drama about two close friends who turn enemies. Bullhead is always in danger of falling down between these many stools but Michael R. Roskam steers a steady ship to deliver a riveting movie.
Cattle farmer Jacky (Schoenaerts) is involved in what the news clumsily calls the Belgium cattle hormone mafia underworld, a shady business of injecting cows so they grow faster. Jacky isn't only injecting his cows - at home he pumps himself full of steroids, which give him a violent rush. Why he can't stand being forced into business with Diederick (Perceval), why he's injecting himself with dangerous levels of chemicals and why he can't approach women - especially his childhood crush (Dandoy) - remain a mystery until a lengthy flashback depicting a horrific attack explains all, and will forever lodge in your memory.
Matthias Schoenaerts' hulky frame dominated Rust & Bone last year; Bullhead was shot before and I can only guess that Jacques Audiard saw it and cast him immediately as Cotillard’s boorish knight. His size gives him the needed presence but Schoenaerts would have that anyway: with that lurching walk, he looks less than human but his droopy, injured eyes say otherwise. He's not alone: Jereon Perceval is brilliantly shabby and a shout out has to go to David Murgia, playing the unhinged attacker in that terrible flashback.
When the seedy dirtiness of Bullhead begins to itch, Roskam slips in a shot of a beautiful sunrise or a misty hill in the morning as a palate cleanser; the film then relaxes, takes a breather before the grime returns. In this world of shady greys and nasty sorts there's no escape from it. Roskam's switching between genres is subtle but his comparison between the hormone-injected cows and the steroid-pumped animalistic Jacky is a little on the nose, though.
A little confusing as to where it's all going at first, Bullhead is worth sticking with.
Review by Gavin Burke | 10:18 | Friday 25th January 2013 | Movie Review