Little Known Fact: Young Judge Patrick Naugle once dreamed of being a cattle farmer, then realized how much work was involved.
In a perfect world, this is the movie D.A.R.E. would force you to see.
Jacky Vanmarsenille (Matthias Schoenaerts) is part of a group of illegal hormone pushers, criminals who inject cows with super enhancement steroids to pump them up, thus making more money per pound. A devastating moment in Jacky's childhood has haunted him all these years, and it's one of the reasons he's become a raging steroid user; doping up his body on narcotics which are only meant only for the animals he works with. When a federal agent looking into illegal hormone dealings turns up murdered, our hero finds himself getting deeper and deeper in trouble. As Jacky's demons begin to surface, he finds out choices have consequences, leading to a powerfully haunting final act.
Bullhead is a movie of quiet power that, while not quite reaching greatness, has enough interesting moments to make it worth our time. It's a fascinating narrative about a man dealing with a past traumatic event that ends up shaping everything he is. This review will be shorter than usual and light on details because what the main character goes through is something that shouldn't be spoiled (and not discussing it makes it difficult to talk about the film at great lengths).
I can tell you relative newcomer Matthias Schoenaerts is excellent in the role of Jacky. This is truly a tour-de-force performance, announcing the arrival of an actor I hope we will see much more of in the future. Schoenaerts spent a lot of time bulking up for this role (without the use of actual steroids, thank the good Lord above), and his portrayal is filled with a rage and anger that runs just beneath the surface of every frame. He's a man consumed by his past, and through the use of narcotics and drugs, he's attempting to block out the pain. Schoenaerts pathos runs deep and his performance is truly the centerpiece of Bullhead. When Jacky stands in the middle of a dark room just after shooting up and starts punching wildly in the air, one can't help but recall Robert De Niro in Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull or Taxi Driver (and I have the sneaking suspicion that may have been the point). It's always exciting to see an actor seemingly walk out of nowhere and give a performance that's unexpected but warmly welcomed.
Where Bullhead ultimately loses steam is when it takes the focus off Jacky. The peripherals of the story also concerns a "hormone mafia" (something I didn't even know existed, much less thought would be a threat) and then works its way into a police procedural featuring a murdered cop on the trail of illegal cow steroids and their pushers. There are also two auto mechanics who fret over some stolen automobile tires (and what to do with a getaway car that could implicate a lot of people, putting the two of them in an early grave), but neither story is even half as compelling as Jacky and the events that led him to his current behavior. In fact, I wish writer/director Michael R. Roskam—working on his first feature-length film—would have kept the focus solely on Jacky and spent less time on the criminal aspects and Jacky's one-time best friend, Diederik (Jeroen Perceval).
Bullhead is a tough movie to sit through. By the time the middle rolls around and we see the event that created Jacky's personality, it's shockingly difficult to watch (especially considering it happens to a small child). The film was nominated for Best Foreign Language at the 2012 Oscars and it's easy to see why; the focal point of the film—Jacky's struggle with his past and present conditions—are riveting entertainment. I usually don't say this, but Bullhead is one of those rare overseas pictures I'd love to see Hollywood remake without pulling any punches. It would be fascinating to see a major directorial talent tackle and refuse to flinch on this harsh and often uncomfortable material.
Presented in 2.35:1/1080p high definition widescreen, this strong transfer features fine detail, solid colors, and a crisp image. The picture retains a fine filmic quality, but it's sharply rendered. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track (in Flemish with English and Dutch subtitles) is good, if not exceptional. While there are moments when the surrounds are engaged, this is primarily a front heavy mix. There is no English dub or alternate language tracks.
Bonus features include an audio commentary from director Michael Roskam in which he discusses various aspects of the story, characters, and script; a making-of featurette ("The Making of Bullhead") that's short but informative; a couple of brief interviews with both the director and star Matthias Schoenaerts; a short film by Roskam titled "The One Thing to Do" (which also starred Schoenaerts); and a digital copy.
Bullhead has its rewards, most of which are wrapped up in Matthias Schoenaerts's brutally honest performance. Recommended to those in the mood for a character-driven drama.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
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