Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Bullhead Review (2011)

Released back in 2011 and nominated for the 2012 Foreign Language Film Oscar, Bullhead only arrived in UK cinemas this February. Losing to Iranian film A Separation, the film’s director Michael Roskam has already been heralded as “One Director to Watch” after his debut feature film and it’s easy to see why. The plot centres on Jackie Vanmarsenille, a cattle farmer with an unhealthy addiction to hormonal medication and steroids. He is persuaded into the illegal dealings with corrupt West-Flemish traders and soon finds himself being investigated by the police. 

My main issue with Bullhead lies in its narrative structure. Michael R. Roskam has written a film that on the surface, is a character study of Jackie’s troubled existence within the context of the cattle “mafia”. The film really hits hard during its exposure of Jackie’s childhood which leave a lasting impression that personifies the turbulent final acts. Themes of drug abuse and sexuality build on his character’s young tribulations and manage to provide a semblance of empathy and humanity in an otherwise emotionally stern tale. However Roskam tries to implement too many additional story elements. A shallow romance, an undercover police investigation and a murder are pieced together without any substance or cohesion. The film simply feels conflicted. While it successfully develops an engaging and thought-provoking lead character, it fails to substantially invest in its encompassing drama and story. 

Matthias Schoenaerts’ performance is minimalist but manages to capture the inner torments and the fragility of his physically brutish character. His incapability to interact with other individuals and general volatility creates an unpredictability to his actions that lingers until the end. Meanwhile the supporting cast is a mixed bag, with the majority unfortunately fading to the background and rarely proving to be anything interesting.

Visually, overly long establishing shots and pretentious imagery are a minor faults in an otherwise stellar looking film that captures both the quiet nature of the Danish landscape and the contrasting neon glow from its “red light districts” and clubs. Simultaneously, the film’s music successfully accompany the sweeping shots and harsh emotional tones. 

Even with its narrative faults, Michael R. Roskam’s first feature film proves to be a strong debut and a respectable nomination for the 2012 Oscars. While a general lack of humanity squanders its attempt to build a consistant emotional investment, an engaging lead and truly distinctive character study presents Bullhead as a tough but powerful film that’s definitely worth a watch.  


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