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Bullhead Reviews

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Bill D 2007
Bill D 2007

Super Reviewer

January 5, 2013
The Belgian film "Bullhead" stars Matthias Schoenaerts as a cattle farmer who traffics in black-market steroids to fatten his livestock and himself. Over time, we learn why he's fixated on developing his musculature. I won't give away the details. I'll just say that it stems from an event in his childhood and that this event is horrifying.

The film was nominated for an Oscar as Best Foreign-Language Film of 2011. (It lost to Iran's "A Separation.")

"Bullhead" is effective and haunting, and Schoenaerts' performance is magnetic. But it has a number of weak aspects. First and foremost, its story is all over the place. There are about six different stories chaotically thrown together. If the film had focused more on the Schoenaerts character, it would have been greatly improved.

Instead, first-time writer/director Michael Roskam introduces us to just about everyone in the man's village, including the boy who witnessed Schoenaerts' childhood atrocity and is now secretly in love with him. And the sister of the perpetrator, whom Schoenaerts has secretly loved for 20 years. Plus about 15 men with whom Schoenaerts is involved in the black market. Plus several police officers closing in on Schoenaerts and his fellow farmers in an attempt to crack the black market.

Everything but the kitchen sink is thrown in. I often complain about thin stories in contemporary cinema. Almost as frustrating is when a filmmaker has too many story ideas and cannot edit himself. Someone has to teach Roskam how to narrow the focus of his stories so his audience is less dizzy and confused.

Focus and prioritization is required during the writing of the screenplay. It also must happen in the editing booth when the shooting is done. Roskam doesn't know how to edit there either. For this film to have a 125-minute running time is ridiculous. Roskam definitely had 90 minutes of good story-telling in the footage he shot. He couldn't find a way to cut away the excess to spotlight those 90 choice minutes. I could see many viewers tuning out at 100 minutes, just from exhaustion. There's nothing more annoying than two hours of meandering footage.

However, there are some amazing moments in "Bullhead," and it's nice to see a young male filmmaker turning his attention to the remarkable fixation on musculature among males today. Is it a form of self-worship? Body worship? When did this fascination with male muscles begin? In the 1980s? That appears to be when it started skyrocketing as a cultural phenomenon. It's quite astonishing and appears to be global. What does it say about the male psyche today?

I appreciate very much that Roskam is one of the few filmmakers venturing into this thematic territory. He has a lot of talent. Did he deserve an Oscar nomination on his first film? I would say no. I don't know who was responsible for that, but I think it was entirely too generous.

But if Roskam gets better at editing his own ideas and his own footage, he could turn into a major filmmaker. He's already responsible for turning Schoenaerts into a global movie star. (Schoenaerts currently stars in "Rust and Bone" with Marion Cotillard.) What's next for Roskam? I'm eager to watch and find out.
Debbie E

Super Reviewer

October 22, 2012
Fresh, beautifully executed, Matthias Schoenaerts is amazing. If the Academy hadn't made a political pick for the Oscar in 2012, this would have won!

Super Reviewer

October 9, 2012
"Sometimes in a man's life stuff happens that makes everyone go quiet"

A young cattle farmer is approached by a veterinarian to make a deal with a notorious beef trader.

MichaŽl R. Roskam's finely directed first feature is a character-driven and plot-driven drama that draws an incisive portrayal of a huge Limburgian man who has been marked for life by a terrible occurrence from the past that now confronts him and becomes even more upsetting. This unconventional tale of a Belgian underground crime syndicate that is shaken when a local policeman is killed, contains a wide range of rare characters and is both an atmospheric mystery and an internal study of character about friendship and the afflicting consequences of lost innocence. Finely photographed by cinematographer Nicolas Karakatsanis, this at times humorous, violent and well-paced thriller is reinforced by Matthias Schoenaerts' riveting acting performance in the leading role. Schoenaerts has a short fuse the entire film and you never know when he's going to explode. That's the beauty of his performance. He's so dangerous yet you can't help but feel sympathy for the guy. Schoenaerts is a ferocious powerhouse that chews you up and spits you out like the most devastating hurricane imaginable. An unsettling and engagingly narrated independent film which gained a nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at the 84th Academy Awards.

Super Reviewer

March 16, 2012
A hypermasculine, steroid-shooting bull of a man seeks revenge for a boyhood wrong amidst the Belgian agrarian hormone trading underground. A well-plotted crime drama with a twist that makes you feel a strange sympathy for its intensely frightening protagonist.
Carlos M

Super Reviewer

March 11, 2012
Not really about the mafia of hormones as it is about a tormented man insecure about his masculinity - but the film's misled attempt to focus on both subjects makes it too complicated, with so many unnecessary scenes. Still, Schoenaerts is perfect as the fascinating protagonist.

Super Reviewer

October 21, 2013
In "Bullhead," Jacky(Matthias Schoenarts) has not only been using steroids to build up his bulk, which in any case comes in handy when using less than gentle persuasion on recalcitrant customers to stay with the family beef business. Of course, they might have reason to stay away, considering the hormones that are injected into the lifestock. That also leads to a cop being killed, with David(Philippe Grand'Henry) and Christian(Erico Salamone), a couple of mechanics, given the tough job of deposing of the evidence. All of which has Diederik(Jeroen Perceval) on edge, which is no surprise considering his being a police informant.

"Bullhead" is an intriguing and realistic, yet flawed, take on 'Beauty and the Beast.' That's not the only split here, as this is filmed in Belgium, a country that is divided(I had no idea there was an actual language line but apparently so) in more ways than one. Still, the Belgian hormone mafia sounds only a little more threatening than the Belgian waffle mafia. As Jacky wonders if we are only animals capable of little more than instinct or more complex beings, the movie does give him one answer by taking the story and his destiny really out of his very large hands which also works against it by removing its interesting lead character from center stage for so long.

Super Reviewer

January 30, 2013
As a child, cattle farmer's son Jacky (Schoenarts) suffers an attack which renders his testicles irreparably damaged, leading him as an adult to develop an addiction to illegal growth hormones and testorone supplements. The perpetrator of the attack was never punished as the father of Jacky's best friend Diederik (Perceval) refused to allow his son give evidence against the son of a local gangster. As adults, Diederik and Jacky have separately become involved in the illegal hormone trade and are reunited, bringing back uncomfortable memories and setting Jacky off on a path of vengeance.
Inexplicably, 'Bullhead' won much praise last year on the festival circuit. With it's deathly slow pace and rather crass use of flashbacks it's a struggle to stay engaged with Roskam's film. The only aspect of the movie I found interesting was the level of animosity between French and Flemish speaking Belgians. The plot is poorly developed, relying on far too many backroom meetings for the sake of exposition. Schoenarts, seen recently in 'Rust & Bone', has been winning accolades but, frankly, I'm stumped as to his appeal. Here, as in Audiard's film, he comes across as a one-note charisma vacuum.
Fascade F

Super Reviewer

August 6, 2012
Unwittingly filmed with one of the darkest childhood traumatic scenes I have ever seen recorded on film imaginable...the story of Jacky Vanmarsenille (Matthias Schoenaerts) a brutal cattle farmer overly pumped up on steroids hesitantly strikes up a deal with a known mafia meat trader. As he decides to make his way out of the deal a federal agent investigating the mobster is murdered sweeping Jacky up in the midst of the mess. As this is going on, a mysterious woman named Lucia Schepers (Jeanne Dandoy) from his past comes into his life to only force him to reopen the complications from the past, along with complicating the current situation in the present. Will he have a future of peace and tranquility with the mysterious Lucia or get swept in the undercurrents of his steroid addiction along with the burnt offerings of the gangster's underworld? See this to believe it!
Daniel P

Super Reviewer

February 3, 2013
A truly brilliant performance from Matthias Schoenarts anchors this impressive film, which has a startling back story that ties into the present, making for an immersive and original film.
Christopher H

Super Reviewer

February 20, 2012
Dark and gritty, Bullhead is a powerhouse of a drama. Coming from a viewer who has had it with the overuse of flashbacks in films, Bullhead finds a way of utilizing the technique in a much more pleasing fashion, blending the life of main character Jacky as a boy with his beefed-up (pun intended) and steroid-laden older self. The shocking revelation of Jacky's past enriches this film with a depth that saves it from being just another mob-infringed thriller gone bad. Matthias Schoenaerts lands a role he was born for and reminds of Tom Hardy early in his career.
Matt S

Super Reviewer

November 24, 2011
HIFF 31: I don't know what to make of this film. It's about black market meat and so much more. Decently acted, but I just couldn't get into the story.
August 27, 2013
As tough to stomach and sit with and yet as operatic as "Un Prophete", my one gripe with Micha√ęl R. Roskam's "Bullhead" is that it's too damn long. This movie is so fucking brutal it could have been cut some. That being said, for a debut feature, "Bullhead" is insanely good-looking, directed, scored (by Raf Keunen) and shot (by Nicolas Karakatsanis) all fantastically. Even when the story wears thin it's ultimately what Roskam does with the material that helps his movie get under your skin. As bleak as it is (and it is indeed very bleak) "Bullhead" feels oddly voyeuristic. And it'd be criminal not to mention the extraordinary Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts as Jacky Vanmarsenille, a roided-out cattle farmer with mob connections that prove fatal. Schoenaerts, so good also in "Rust and Bone", is an actor to watch, and Roskam a director. But that's not to say "Bullhead" isn't hauntingly singular.
September 30, 2012
This Belgian film was a 2012 Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Language Film. Bullhead is a dramatic thriller that masquerades as a mafia/crime family pic as the story centers upon a single troubled, bullish character named Jacky Vanmarsenille who is a brutish pumped up, juiced up walking steroid cattle farmer (who also uses growth hormones on his livestock). Jacky walks a fine line between mere cattleman and shady businessman as he brokers a deal with some unsavory family members who trade in meat. When a federal agent is found murdered in the vicinity (while investigating growth hormone use in cattle), Jacky's life and that of his immediate family is/are put at greater risk from the mafia and the police force. Using flashbacks to fill-in Jacky's hulk-in-the-making backstory, his story becomes surprisingly sympathetic (uhm ... those with weak stomachs might not want to watch ... although the direction keeps everything overly graphic offscreen). While Jacky appears to emotionally detached from nearly everything -- for good reason -- he encounters a woman from his tragic past that stirs up questions and more mystery. Bullhead is a good film although the two stories (past and present) causes the film to feel somewhat disjointed at times and less cohesive than it should as the two stories are so drastically different -- one youthful and innocent and one animalistic and gruff. Bullhead does keep your interest, though, as we wonder how Jacky can turn everything around ... or if he even wants to. Has he sunk too far into the dark underworld to be rescued?
March 8, 2012
I've seen Bullhead twice now and greatly enjoyed it both times. The look of the movie is so dark and oppressive, and it's so hard to watch the characters try to make up for their messed up past in messed up ways. It does mix its genres - a twisty whodunnit and a drama centered around tragic folks, but I think it worked.
August 7, 2014
Beautifully crafted and directed, Bullhead is a stirring Belgian drama anchored by a strong central performance. The trouble with the film is in its material, which presents several ideas that lack wisdom. By giving Jacky (a riveting Schoenaerts) such a traumatizing past, the film pretends to claim that his violent conduct as an adult is unavoidable, which leaves out all semblance of choice and free will. And what we're left with is a brutal statement of nihilistic humanism. In the character of Jacky, the filmmakers provide both a protagonist and an antagonist, a victim and a perpetrator. Should we feel sorry for him or despise him? Even the filmmakers don't seem to know, and therein lies the real tragedy.
June 29, 2014
I honestly thought the first half hour of this movie was kind of boring and slow and it left me wondering what all the hype was over this movie (at least among critics). And then the movie drops a very heavy and devastating brick, bringing the entire movie into focus and ultimately leading to tragic ending. It is beautiful, it is dark, and it shows how the things that others do us can shape our lives.
Rai  MI
June 23, 2014
This a Belgian crime/mobster movie. Mobsters are making money by convincing farmers to illegally inject their animals with hormones. The movie is based upon the murder of a real policeman who was investigating this type of criminal enterprise. Our characters are speaking Dutch and French. The film is pretty dark in tone. The mobsters are killers; among other crimes. The farmers and other local people get caught up in the dirty dealing. The story unfolds over considerable time (with flash-backs); perhaps 20 years or more.

There is a back story that eventually overrides the nominal criminal story. A grievous crime was committed in the past. Justice was not satisfied. Revenge is simmering just under the surface. This back story picks up steam and carries us along to the end.

This is a small movie. It was pretty well made. The story is dark enough to be a bit of a downer. But, it did not fully engage me. All of the pieces did not come together to form a cogent whole. And, our hero is complex. He is hard to root for.

It was a marginally OK trip to the flics.
May 27, 2014
Well-drawn characters.
February 13, 2014

I'm terrible disappointed by this Belgian film, called Rundskop in it's native tongue. Bullhead is wasted potential at it's finest. It features dazzling cinematography, a outstanding performance from Matthias Schoenaerts, and it's a great character study... So how could this film fail? Well, it's the other things that make this film hard to bear. It's such a shame too considering that this had so many great things going for it.

Bullhead, or Rundskop, is about cattle farmer Jacky Vanmarsenille, who had a traumatic experience which I wouldn't wish upon my worst enemy, when he was a kid. As a result, he has to pump himself up with steroids in order to produce testosterone. He's also in the middle of a "business" deal of selling steroid infested cows to the Meat Mafia (lol, they sure do make gangs out of anything). Meanwhile, the Meat Mafiosos have just murdered a cop, and it puts them under heavy watch, with Jacky as a suspect, even though he didn't have anything to do with it. Enter an undercover cop, who is gay, and turns out to be Jacky's childhood friend, and we have the basic premise.... oh, and Jacky falls in love with a chick. There lies the first problem. The film's plotting is rather all over the place and it affects what's going on.

Plot points are randomly thrown in, such as the gay undercover cop's relationship. It felt very forced and out of place. And then, the plot point is just dropped off entirely as if nothing happened. Okay, explain to me what was the point? Well, there is a pretty funny one-liner later on in the film, which Jacky does say. "You're not a faggot, are you?" But that isn't enough to justify this random plot point.

Bullhead especially fails in the flashbacks, which shows Jacky's traumatic experience. However, rather than being disturbing, it feels very unintentionally funny. I won't discuss what happened. Just know it is a terrible fate. However, it's poorly handled, and since I'm not very understanding of Belgium's youth, I didn't feel like it was realistic...

Where this film does shine is in the acting department! Matthias Schoenaerts is enough to justify watching this film as he just envelopes this role. He plays Jacky with subtle grace and poignancy that it helps you feel more sorrow to the character. Also, Jacky himself is a great character! He reminds me of a more talkative version of the Driver, but he actually shows real pain through his eyes. Not just staring into space, like Gosling does.

Then, there's the beautiful cinematography. It infuses the bleak, dry landscape of Belgium with the colorful blue feel of the night clubs. It's an amazingly shot film. That plays to the film's advantage as I was getting bored with the narrative, I tried to find something much better within this film. It's a shame that Michael R. Roskam's screenplay could not match his directing talent.

Overall, Schoenaerts deserved a better film than this disappointing, hollow mess. Him, along with Roskam's excellent camerawork, are the only positives about this film. Many plot points are introduced... Then forgotten. It also has a very serious tone, which might turn off viewers, considering the premise is more reminiscent of a Tarantino or Ritchie film. I mean, it does. It's a silly premise and moments in the film do remind me of Snatch. However, the film takes it with a serious tone. I can only recommend it for Schoenaerts alone. Watch the film for his performance... He deserved better.
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