The bullhead of the title is cattle farmer and small-time criminal Jacky Vanmarsenille (Matthias Schoenaerts), a raging hulk who’s the bullyboy enforcer for his family’s blackmarket business supplying illegal growth hormones to the local farmers in rural Belgium who inject their cattle with the steroids, fattening the animals quicker, providing larger profits.
So successful is the family trade in hormones, they attract the attentions of Belgium’s “steroid mafia” who are keen to do a deal to supply the family with drugs. At the meeting with the head of the hormone ring, Jacky encounters Diedrick (Jeroen Perceval), a former childhood friend who shares a dark secret about the tragic events that have led Jacky to become a violent, steroid-addicted mess, lashing out at the world around him.
As Jacky and Didrick are sucked deeper into a conspiracy involving the death of an undercover policeman and the search for a police informer, Jacky makes one last stab at redemption, attempting to make a connection with his childhood crush, glamorous perfume store owner Lucia (Jeanne Dandoy) who is unknowingly tied to Jacky’s traumatic past.
However, haunted by tragedy, his reckless use of steroids out of control, Jacky is a ticking timebomb primed to explode…
Made in 2011 and Oscar-nominated in 2012 as Belgium’s entry in the Best Foreign Film category, writer/director Michael R. Roskam’s impressive debut feature Bullhead does itself a disservice by selling itself as a crime thriller and the addition of the “steroid mafia” and their convoluted machinations feels superfluous and distracting in what is essentially a character study of a man eaten alive by tragedy, insecurity and the chemical poisons he fills his body with.
So good in last year’s Rust And Bone, Matthias Schoenaerts is stunning and heartbreaking as the damaged Jacky. A prisoner of his past, consumed by rage at the hand life has dealt him, the more savagely he acts, the more sympathy we have for Jacky, a self-created Frankenstein’s monster, and Schoenaerts, who piled on 27 kilograms of muscle for the role is mesmerisingly watchable, bringing a tortured vulnerability, an almost child-like sensitivity to his raging bull. Physically huge, he dominates the screen practically bursting not just out of his clothes but out of his skin. And that’s precisely where the tragedy of Jacky’s life lies; he’s a man who will never feel at home in his own skin, tormented by the demons of his past he’ll never escape.
Bleak and shattering, Bullhead is a fascinating and tragic character study driven by an anguished performance by the fantastic Schoenaerts.
Matthias Schoenaerts, Jeroen Perceval, Jeanne Dandoy, Barbara Sarafian, Tibo Vandenborre and Frank Lammers
UK Cinema Release Date:
Friday 1st February