Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
The 20 Worst Films Of 2015 So Far The 20 Worst Films Of 2015 So Far New Images Of Bruce Wayne, Lex Luthor, More In 'Batman v. Superman,' Ben Affleck Compares Batman To Hamlet New Images Of Bruce Wayne, Lex Luthor, More In 'Batman v. Superman,' Ben Affleck Compares Batman To Hamlet Paul Thomas Anderson To Write And Possibly Direct Warner Bros' ‘Pinocchio’ For Robert Downey Jr. Paul Thomas Anderson To Write And Possibly Direct Warner Bros' ‘Pinocchio’ For Robert Downey Jr. Watch: First Trailer For Oliver Stone’s ‘Snowden’ Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley & Nicolas Cage Watch: First Trailer For Oliver Stone’s ‘Snowden’ Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley & Nicolas Cage Review: ‘Terminator: Genisys’ Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney & Jason Clarke Review: ‘Terminator: Genisys’ Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney & Jason Clarke 'Thor: The Dark World' Director Alan Taylor Says His Marvel Experience Was "Particularly Wrenching" 'Thor: The Dark World' Director Alan Taylor Says His Marvel Experience Was "Particularly Wrenching" Watch: Anna Paquin Is Rescued In Clip From 'X-Men: Days of Future Past - The Rogue Cut' Watch: Anna Paquin Is Rescued In Clip From 'X-Men: Days of Future Past - The Rogue Cut' Kevin Feige Says 'Spider-Man 2' Is "One Of The Best Superhero Movies Ever," Talks John Hughes Influence On New Spidey Kevin Feige Says 'Spider-Man 2' Is "One Of The Best Superhero Movies Ever," Talks John Hughes Influence On New Spidey Watch: Live Your Ultimate Fantasy With The First NSFW Trailer For Gaspar Noe's 'Love' Watch: Live Your Ultimate Fantasy With The First NSFW Trailer For Gaspar Noe's 'Love' Review & Recap: ‘True Detective’ Season 2, Episode 2, ‘Night Finds You’ Review & Recap: ‘True Detective’ Season 2, Episode 2, ‘Night Finds You’ Terrence Malick’s ‘Knight Of Cups’ Won’t Arrive Until 2016, Austin Music Scene Drama Not Titled ‘Weightless’ Terrence Malick’s ‘Knight Of Cups’ Won’t Arrive Until 2016, Austin Music Scene Drama Not Titled ‘Weightless’ The Punisher Will Reportedly Appear As The Villain In ‘Daredevil’ Season 2 The Punisher Will Reportedly Appear As The Villain In ‘Daredevil’ Season 2 'Lucy 2' And 'Colombiana 2' Are In Development 'Lucy 2' And 'Colombiana 2' Are In Development Mixed Reactions For Marvel's 'Ant-Man' After First Press Screening Plus New Promos And Pics Mixed Reactions For Marvel's 'Ant-Man' After First Press Screening Plus New Promos And Pics The Essentials: The 5 Best Rachel McAdams Performances The Essentials: The 5 Best Rachel McAdams Performances The 25 Best TV Shows Of The 2014/2015 Season The 25 Best TV Shows Of The 2014/2015 Season The 25 Best Animated Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Animated Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season

The Crime Genre Is Still Alive & Original Says Writer/Director Michael Roskam Of The Oscar Nominated 'Bullhead'

Photo of Erik McClanahan By Erik McClanahan | The Playlist June 26, 2012 at 2:50PM

The crime film is ever evolving. As in all genres, however, plots and characters have been repeated and copied throughout the history of cinema in this ubiquitous mainstay, but it’s the gifted filmmaker that finds a new way to tell a familiar story. History tells us that European art house directors, or really any auteur from outside the States, have typically been the most adept at re-working tired formulas in the gangster milieu. With that in mind, we are currently experiencing something of a golden age in crime cinema.
3
Roskam

The crime film is ever evolving. As in all genres, however, plots and characters have been repeated and copied throughout the history of cinema in this ubiquitous mainstay, but it’s the gifted filmmaker that finds a new way to tell a familiar story. History tells us that European art house directors, or really any auteur from outside the States, have typically been the most adept at re-working tired formulas in the gangster milieu. With that in mind, we are currently experiencing something of a golden age in crime cinema.

Titles such as “La Haine,” the “Pusher” trilogy, “City of God,” “Gomorrah,” “A Prophet,” “Animal Kingdom,” “The Robber” and “Drive” are all, at least according to this writer, future certified classics, if not already. Even the B-level films of late have been damn strong, among them “Down Terrace,” “A Bittersweet Life” and “Infernal Affairs” springing to mind. All that being said, the Oscar-nominated “Bullhead,” picked up by Drafthouse Films for U.S. distribution, fits quite nicely in this camp. We’ve reviewed this film positively, to varying degrees, twice on The Playlist here and here

Bullhead 4

“It’s fun to see that the genre is still alive, and that it still can be original,” said writer/director Michael R. Roskam, when we spoke with him earlier this year.  “It allows you to be original and new, to break the rules and invent them again,” he added. Roskam enjoys a layered mix of entertainment and smarts in crime films, a balance he strikes quite nicely in his debut effort, which follows Jacky (played impeccably by Matthias Schoenaerts, in what should be a star-making role) trying to navigate the Belgian beef steroid mafia underworld (who knew such a thing existed?) while also dealing with a drummed-up moment of brutality from his past that changed his life inexorably.

In his “neo-noir gangster tragedy,” Roskam tackles the plot elements we’ve seen before – police trying to solve a murder, deals being brokered amongst criminals – but mixes them with Jacky’s psychology. “It’s double layered,” he says. “It’s a character study, but at the same time it’s not only just him [Jacky] fighting against himself, but also against the whole world surrounding him.”

The kernel for the screenplay of “Bullhead” started taking shape once Roskam, still studying painting at the time, heard about a real life murder of a veterinarian in Belgium who refused to play the game with this criminal organization. Even though the filmmaker spent some time as a journalist (something he calls an accident), it only helped him indirectly on his research for the film, as he consulted other, more seasoned investigative journalists he met during this time in his career.

Bullhead 5

As for his star Schoenaerts, who gives a hulking and dangerous, yet wholly sympathetic, turn as Jacky (a performance in many ways, but mostly in its physicality, akin to the magnetic one given by Tom Hardy in “Bronson”), Roskam said he “wanted a kind of constructed masculinity in a physical and mental way.” Because of the confidence, mutual trust and support between the filmmaker and his star, the movie is what it is now thanks to this partnership, one that began with a short in 2005 called “The One Thing You Do.”

It's the character of Jacky that gives “Bullhead” a different feel than most gangster movies. Criminal environments in movies are often populated with an abundance of testosterone, and great filmmakers find a way to gain audience sympathy and/or empathy for its characters, but the depths plumbed by both star and director with Jacky are rare in the genre. “I didn’t invent this kind of storytelling,” said Roskam. “Martin Scorsese and Sam Peckinpah did it, and I love those movies where you can feel compassion about someone that you actually are not supposed to like because of moral standards.”

Bullhead 6

Roskam believes when he’s writing that things are not black and white and that people tend to do things because they are reacting. “That’s what you do when you write these stories,” he said. “And if you don’t know how that works, you just put ‘Taxi Driver’ on and it’ll teach you.”

As for that Oscar nomination in the Best Foreign Language Film category, the director was humble and genuinely excited, saying that initially, simply being nominated was the award in itself ( (it ended up losing to "A Separation"). “We all have egos, if you put us in a game, we want to win,” he said. It’s already opened up doors for him in America, where he’s developing an English language project, possibly as his follow up film. In many ways, Roskam said, if none of this attention had happened things would be much simpler, and he’d already know what to do next. But it is a good problem to have.

"Bullhead" is out on DVD today.

This article is related to: Bullhead, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael R. Roskam


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates