Bullhead, written and directed by Michael R. Roskam is easily my film pick of the week but you’ll have to look elsewhere for detailed reasons why. It’s not that it’s difficult to follow the story of a Belgian farmer and gangster muscle who injects himself with illegal hormones to compensate for a childhood accident (a really tragic accident involving his genitalia). True, there were times when I had to stop and ask myself if I remember which character was being spoken about and what their role in the crime was. That could simply be an unfortunately side effect of the dutch/french dialogue. No, it’s hard to get down to details because it’s one of those films that washes over you as an experience. That’s a bit harder to explain.
The main character, Jacky is masterfully played by Matthias Schoenaerts. His performance is so convincing that you you’re drawn into his world of cattle, drugs, and long-lost love immediately. The gorgeous cinematography contributes to fleshing out the environment around Jacky with subtle colors and fluid moves around him. We watch the tragedy unfold like a silent, floating spirit. That really adds much to a film like this. I can imagine another direction Bullhead could have gone in; one that is all quick cuts and hyper-stylized violence. I’m glad the film chose a more quiet, artful route.
Artful is an important word here. This story takes its time as the motives of a handful of characters slowly converge to a tipping point. That’s how it is with many gangster films. Rarely, do the bad guys strut triumphantly into the sunset. We all know karma has a way of catching up to those whose lives are ruled by illegal activity and violence. Jacky is someone we grow to care about through childhood flashbacks and his sad pining for a girl from his past. The quiet moments we spend with him display a vulnerability that this mountain of a man shares with no one. We know Jacky will fall eventually, and the civil-minded of us can justify that downfall…but one can’t help but feel sorry for a man who is a product of a sick moment in time.
Bullhead gives you a glimpse of a world you probably didn’t know existed. That alone is reason enough to watch it. When coupled with wonderful performances, great direction, and lush cinematography, you’d be crazy to miss it. I’ll bet when you’re done, you’ll have a hard time explaining what it is exactly that moves you about the film. While finding the words might be difficult, recommending won’t be.