The in­cred­i­ble bulk

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILMREVIEWS - TARA BRADY

BULL­HEAD Di­rected by Michaël R Roskam. Star­ring Matthias Schoe­naerts, Jeroen Perce­val, Bar­bara Sarafian

Club, IFI/Screen, Dublin, 124 mins

Jacky (Matthias Schoe­naerts) is a player in the Bel­gian il­le­gal hor­mone mar­ket and a sim­mer­ing mess of rage, steroids and para­noia. Or­di­nar­ily, he has no trou­ble with the shady deals and heavy­handed in­ter­ac­tions de­manded by his cat­tle-deal­ing fam­ily.

A new merger, how­ever, with the West Flem­ish beef mafia sets the bulky an­ti­hero of Bull­head on edge. He doesn’t like that th­ese new busi­ness part­ners are cop-killers and he likes it even less that the ar­range­ment will see him work­ing with a former child­hood friend.

A se­ries of flash­backs soon re­veal an eye-wa­ter­ing act of vi­o­lence and the key to Jacky’s brutish be­hav­iour and physique. As the po­lice close in on the hor­mone racket, a steady drip-feed of his­tor­i­cal de­tails points in­ex­orably to a vi­o­lent con­clu­sion.

If you’ve longed for a lower class of drug ped­dling than Break­ing Bad’s crys­tal-meth scam or for a more volatile king­pin than Break­ing Bad’s Heisen­berg, then writer-di­rec­tor Michaël R Roskam’s de­but film is for you.

As with Rag­ing Bull and Bron­son, this is very much a hulk­ing one-man show­case. Schoe­naerts’s phys­i­cal­ity dom­i­nated last year’s Rust and Bone; in Bull­head he’s more an­i­mal­is­tic still, all cours­ing veins and gris­tle. In his mouth, Roskam’s di­a­logue – com­posed mostly in Lim­bur­gish – is fre­quently re­duced to a se­ries of snorts and grunts.

Jacky lit­er­ally butts heads with those who dis­please him; he bel­lows at fam­ily mem­bers; alone, he paces and crum­ples into help­less bovine shapes. The larger nar­ra­tive about mu­tant meat and the mafia is soon com­pletely eclipsed by Schoe­naerts’s brood­ing, com­pelling per­for­mance and his char­ac­ter’s on­go­ing psy­chodrama.

The cine­matog­ra­phy ex­ag­ger­ates the ac­tor’s al­ready ex­ag­ger­ated frame with dra­matic shadow play. Dark­ened back­room deals ref­er­ence Car­avag­gio paint­ings; out­door tableaux are rough and ruddy.

This fine first fea­ture from Roskam was de­servedly short­listed for an Academy Award last year. But be fair warned: gen­tle­men view­ers are ad­vised to look away around 40 min­utes in.

No rust on this bone: Matthias Schoe­naerts in Bull­head

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