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Bullhead—movie review

Reviews
by Leonard Maltin
February 17, 2012 12:50 AM
3 Comments
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Matthias Schoenaerts in Bullhead

If I were to sum up my feelings about this film in two words, they would be “grimly fascinating.” Bullhead is the dark horse in this year’s Oscar race for Best Foreign Language Film, a sleeper from Belgium that has won acclaim around the world. Part of the response comes from the excitement of discovery: an unknown writer-director making his feature debut, and creating a gritty crime story (with strong emotional currents) set against an unlikely backdrop.

Michaël R. Roskam’s film wastes no time introducing us to modern Belgian dairy farmers, whose matter-of-fact usage of growth hormones for their cows is matched only by their acquiescence to the gangsters who control this drug trade. A turf war inadvertently causes two men to meet for the first time in twenty years; this in turn prompts a flashback to explain how an incident in their boyhood changed their lives forever.

I am deliberately leaving out details so that you can experience the full impact of the story yourself. The leading character, a bull-like figure played by Matthias Schoenaerts, is caught between reminders of his painful past and a bleak outlook on the future. He knows that the stage is being set for a showdown and it isn’t going to be pretty.

Bullhead

Roskam’s screenplay ties everything together metaphorically, comparing the use of drugs on farm animals with the frightening effect that similar pharmaceuticals have on his protagonist. Tension mounts as we watch this hapless fellow try to find some glimmer of normalcy in his life, knowing that he is bound to explode. It’s just a question of when.

Because the story’s climax is as inevitable as a Greek tragedy, Bullhead loses some of its dramatic momentum in the last act. But there is no question of its potency or originality; this is no ordinary crime yarn. The only remaining question is whether or not you’re prepared to spend two hours with such an uninviting (but not uninteresting) cast of characters. Hope is nowhere in sight, only misery.

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3 Comments

  • kate | March 17, 2012 1:05 AMReply

    I just watched Bullhead at filmswoop.com. It's free and in good quality. Check it out!

  • Frenchpastorale | February 22, 2012 2:08 PMReply

    This movie is giving some vision of what can be European approach of 7th art not as an entertainement but as a message, both aesthetical and narrative. Of course we are far from the usual good vs bad and basic values brought back in the end..the inescapable "hope" as you call him.
    The talent of the director, the social community described, the destiny facing cowardice and hazard crossed on the wide opened field of visual choices far from the conventional codes give us a masterpiece, a work deeply claimed and a praise to one gender we could need to use in its cathartic and teaching dimensions, the genuine tragedy.

  • Dusa | February 17, 2012 4:25 PMReply

    Having seen the movie I can say that I was not only deeply impressed but moved till my bones...for there are amazing subtleties to experience every second. I wonder why I didn't find any comment that mentions f.i. the genuine love of Jacky for Lucia when he was a preteen, how in his mind she always has been the only one he secretly loved with his heart and how in the end, facing the impossibility to even have a friendly conversation with her, his dispair culminates into a final act of selfdestruction. But, at my sense, the end is not dark for him as his soul gets liberated. The little boy he was and still is departs from life with a final relief of all the pain that emprisonned him ( we see his NDE). The tragedy will, from then on, shift to the shoulders and consciousness of Diederik, the friend who in their childhood was a coward and now again, did not offer the real help that was needed while being the right man who could. That way the last act did not loose its dramatic momentum... the story doesn't end...at least, it did not end in my mind... Bullhead is a masterpiece, at the hight of greek tragedies and some Shakespeares.

    And there is a lot more to say about the infinite subtleties at all levels that make this movie as coherent but unscrutable as life itself.

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