Bullhead [Rundskop] Movie Review
Dark and involving, this shocking Belgian drama not only earned an Oscar nomination but propelled its director and leading man into much bigger movies. And deservedly so. With a strikingly internalised approach to a shattering story, writer-director Roskam gets deep under the surface. He also somehow manages to address a seriously important issue without ever getting preachy about it. And while the film focusses on lead actor Schoenaerts, it's absolutely riveting.
Set in Belgium's cattle country, the story centres on Jacky (Schoenaerts), a beefy young guy who runs his family farm and seems to inject as many muscle-building hormones into himself as his cattle. But there's a secret reason for this, dating back two decades to a grisly incident he is suddenly forced to confront when his long-lost childhood friend Diederick (Perceval) turns up to negotiate with a rival gang leader (Louwyck). The doping gangs are nervous about two detectives (Vandenborre and Sarafian) who are investigating the murder of an undercover drug-enforcement agent. And with his memory sparked, Jacky looks up Lucia (Dandoy), a woman from his past.
When Jacky is on-screen we are completely engaged. Schoenaerts plays him as a likeable hulk, fiercely intelligent even though he's uneducated, with a gentle manner that's being undermined by too many hormones. So he sometimes loses his ability to cope, lashing out with horrific violence in ways that worry him as much as us. We could watch him all day, but Roskam has a bigger story to tell, cutting away from Jacky to explore the war between drug gangs, the authorities and the capitalists who insist that long-established farms increase their productivity regardless of whether this means breaking the law.
As the story progresses, Jacky becomes a pawn rather than the protagonist, which is a bit frustrating for us as viewers. But even if it misses a strong emotional kick, the story is intense and gripping, and we yearn for our dangerously flawed hero to find the happy ending that has eluded him all his life. Meanwhile, the actor and filmmaker have both found their happy endings: on the back of this film, Schoenaerts went on to star opposite Marion Cotillard in the acclaimed Rust and Bone and has a series of even bigger roles in the pipeline, while Roskam is now directing Tom Hardy and Noomi Rapace in Animal Rescue.