Review: Bullhead

(Michael R. Roskam, 2011)

Marking Michaël R. Roskam’s debut feature, Bullhead, or to give it its original title, Rundskop is a rather unconventional thriller focusing on the shady dealings of the Belgium cattle hormone mafia. Taking a distinguished route away from the typical Western approaches to the gangster narrative, which focus more on the dangers organised crime has on the loyalty of the various family members of the clan, Roskam, who also wrote the screenplay, juggles various narrative strands, whilst dipping in and out of flashbacks, to exemplify the inescapable effects of fate, and focuses predominantly on its hulking protagonist.

The film works best as a powerful character study of Jacky, a gruff, physically imposing farmer damaged both physically and mentally due to an ‘accident’ when he was a child, which is perhaps one of the most visceral, graphic and uncomfortable sequences the film has to offer, and there are many. Mattias Schoenaerts, who plays Jacky Vanmarsenille, fully embodies the testosterone-driven, fractured lost soul caught up in the wrong crowd and his fixation with the past, and his menacing stature is juxtaposed by Nicolas Karakatsanis’s foreboding cinematography, which injects the film with an unshakeable sense of dread as it builds to an uneasy climax.

Spoken in various regional dialects, Bullhead’s multi-faceted narrative fully pads out the 124-minute runtime, but it ultimately fails at giving a satisfying ending to all its plot strands. As Roskam himself states, the film is not “about good or evil”, but it would have benefited from having more clearly defined characters other than the fully rounded Jacky.

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