Monday, February 27, 2012


Directed by: Michael R. Roskam
Written by: Michael R. Roskam
Starring: Matthias Schoenaerts, Jeroen Perceval, and Jeanne Dandoy
Synopsis: A look at the "cattle hormone mafia" and a cattle rancher in Belgium after a cop is murdered.

Javi here. I got the chance to see the newest Drafthouse Films acquisition, the Oscar-nominated BULLHEAD.  Before the screening, Tim League introduced the movie. He was saying that DIRECTOR, Michael R. Roskam, was an artist beforehand, so a lot of the scenes have a very striking visual impact, even if it’s just a cow hanging out in a field. What strikes me as the most unique aspect about this movie was that you don't see many movies that deal with male virility or the lack thereof. With the main character, Jacky, being a highly damaged person that you can empathize with, BULLHEAD is a movie about living with the consequences of our actions and about the danger that comes with trying to wrongfully compensate with our own shortcomings. 

The movie itself was an amazing portrayal of cause and effect with a bit of male impotency and virility set in the background of the meat hormone mafia in Belgium. The movie played a bit like a Coen Brothers film where a singular event was the catalyst of the whole story that slowly but surely brings misery on everyone involved. The plot itself, while intriguing, was not really the interesting part. The beauty of it is in the amazing characters that were created.

The story was first and foremost Jacky's struggle with the suppressed feelings that he's had ever since the traumatic childhood incident that would shaped his life. When you're introduced to Jacky, you see that he intimidated a business associate. He's an imposing figure with his one lazy eye, his demeanor, and most of all the insane amount of muscles that he's rocking. He has taken over the family business as the main cattle farmer while dealing with the fallout of a police officer assassination by one of the suppliers of the hormones. Thanks to this, he comes in contact with people such as his former best friend and the glorified "childhood crush" from his past.

This was a severely dark movie that unfolds itself like a sad onion. I loved the way that the movie set up certain character traits early in the movie. There were subtle things such as Jacky's anger to hearing comments about sex that are later revealed to be a very personal issue for him. A lot of the marketing and even the title very appropriately compares Jacky to a bull. You see his transformation from a timid kid to a literally raging monster that even goes as far ramming people, and very much like the cattle that he raises, he is completely full of hormones. One of the more fascinating scenes in the movie is when he is preparing his cocktail of usual substances that he injects himself with. The precision and the confidence in which he does this is astounding, and Matthias Schoenaerts has one of the more unsung performances of the year for me. He takes showers in the fetal position which was the most obvious visual representation of needing safety and needing to be taken care of. But he is so intent in trying to prove that he is  "real" man that he is ultimately undone for it, both physically and mentally.

Here's an interesting comparison between Jacky and Tom Hardy's Bronson character from the movie of the same name by director Nicolas Winding Refn. Whereas Bronson is a macho and insane psychopath because he thinks it will help him be famous. Jacky on the other hand feels like less of a man and he tries to make up for it with steroids but doesn't know how to actually act like an adult. In a tragic and ironic way, he actually becomes the bully (get it ;-) similar to the one that tormented him. What was really important to me was this exploration of manhood and what actually makes you a man, which is awfully relevant in today's generation. For example, I've never been into sports, I don't eat meat, and I gotta tell you, I still get shit for this because it's not considered "manly" or what not. But do things like that make you a man? What about all of those people that have never known their fathers or a children of broken homes? Where is the sense of what makes a man a good person or even a man's man? This makes me think of some of the vague themes that I had heard about that were presented in THE TREE OF LIFE, where the main character seems to be learning about the world in two completely ways, one through his mother and one through his father. In today's society where gender roles, at least I feel, are being eroded, is there even a place for someone like Jacky? I think that the movie explores this question.

A big kudos goes to director Roskam, who has one of the more unique visual styles I have seen in a while. He seems to make the mundane and bleak look otherwise gorgeous. There were many transitional shots where they featured nature or even cows couped up in a barn that just looked amazing. Think early VanGogh with the sad looking potato farmers, where the juxtaposition of sadness and beauty mix well. One of my favorites scenes involved Jacky going to a night club. I know what you're thinking, "But Javi, I've seen tons of these clumsy club scenes, what's the big deal?" I have to say that its club scene works well because the paranoia and the insecurity that Jacky feels comes across well in the choice of shots, cuts, and even the colors of the scene change as his mood seems to change.

Roskam also plays a lot with focus that add a personal sense of perspective in certain scenes. Without spoiling anything, there was a particular scene where all but one aspect of the shot is completely blurry adding to the rather dreadful feeling being portrayed. I am very excited to hear what Roskam will do next.

There are a few complaints though. For one, I am vegetarian for moral and health reasons. Because of this, a lot of the scenes involving the cattle such as when they are injecting them with the hormones, or even a rather graphic birthing scenes made me sick. I know, I know, but it's my review, so that's a complaint I had. Another one is the fact that, especially towards the last third, the plot just sort of stops and falls apart a little. I'll admit that this just might be my own sensibilities where I don't like dangling plot points, even though I don't mind ambiguity in a movie, if that makes sense. But the movie just ends, and there were a lot of unresolved issues. Even the way that the story unfolds can seem a little confusing with a few of the character's motivations not seeming very clear. But these are relatively minor complaints for a movie that made me think this much. 

In a world where misogyny is thrown around too easily and a lot of movies are hated on for not having a female perspective in the online movie critic community, it is refreshing to see a movie that explores the male gender and the accompanying gender roles that go along with that. It does not do it by diminishing the female sex at all, but in my opinion, is more aligned with progressive ideals as to what man's role in this new and evolving world can and should be as opposed to what it has been. And if you don't buy my interpretation of it, you can just think of it as a kick ass crime drama about becoming a monster while fighting a monster and letting your past dictate your future. Take your pick. This movie has a lot of things to pick apart from. And just like with CERTIFIED COPY, if I would have seen this back in 2011, it would have made my Top Ten of the year.

BULLHEAD is now open in limited release across the country. Check the website for local listings. For the Dallas area, you can catch this over at the Texas Theatre check out this link for showtimes.


  1. Finland ? The movie is set in Belgium...

  2. Thanks, I thought I had edited that out of it. In the first draft, for some reason I put Finland.