Often times, especially in the realm of revenge films, simplicity is key. Filling the void of vengeful characters with simple hate, sadness and spite is standard stuff when working in the arena of anger. The problem with "Bullhead" is it tries way to hard to be too many things – is it a drama, coming of age story, revenge flick or a crime story? – and as a result none are able to dramatically come full circle.
Matthias Schoenaerts stars as Jacky Vanmarsenille, a tortured cattle farmer with a healthy appetite for medication. Constantly pumping his veins with steroids, hormones and the like, Jacky is a man in both physical and emotional pain and it shows. After initiating a deal with a notorious Mafioso meat trader, Jacky is surprised to see that a childhood acquaintance that is now a hired gunman. It’s a revelation that brings the past flooding back for Jacky, a past he has tried to forget. But now coming face-to-face with his demons, Jacky is forced to decide how to make the past right for himself.
The above is a vague description of a story so chocked full of content that it’s almost like four films were combine into one. As the Belgian contender for the Best Foreign Language film for this year’s Academy Awards, "Bullhead" certainly has much mood to spare. Director Michael R. Roskam does have a firm grasp on how to elevate familiar material, but with "Bullhead" there’s way too much of it and much like the ailing lead character, it takes its toll. Lead man Schoenaerts does provide quite a layered performance, but again his on-screen prowess is almost cut too short to make room for meaningless exposition.
I’m actually surprised this one got the nod, as the material is dark indeed. It’s just too bad that the complex content didn’t match the sultry style. I’m actually curious to see Roskam’s work after "Bullhead" and hopefully next time he’ll take heed – trimming the fat isn’t just for steaks.
"BULLHEAD" IS CURRENTLY PLAYING IN LIMITED RELEASE IN SELECT CITIES FROM DRAFTHOUSE FILMS.