The incredible bulk
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