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Bullhead (3 stars)

Rust and Bone's Matthias Schoenaerts shines in this slightly muddled Belgian crime drama

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Bullhead EMBARGO MON 21

Fans of Jacques Audiard’s Rust and Bone will be keen to see that film’s impressive male lead Matthias Schoenaerts again, and this Belgian drama (its homeland’s Oscar entry) gives him plenty to chew on. As Jacky, an underworld hustler and supplier of illegal hormones to the meat trade, Schoenaerts must conjure a masculinity that’s at once overpowering, confining, and radically bent-out-of-shape by a terrible childhood trauma.

As in Rust and Bone, the actor’s De Niro-esque blend of boyishness and brawn makes for an unpredictable and fascinating performance. But if its lead is hypnotically watchable, the film is rather harder to follow. Information is rationed in a way that makes the viewer work extremely hard - which isn’t necessarily a problem in itself, but does obstruct the sort of full emotional engagement that the film’s bloody intensity appears to invite.

The story is at once Jacky’s personal tale, told out of sequence via flashbacks to his childhood; a murder plot, presented in the style of a genre thriller; a bleak satire on the wobbly Belgian political climate (the country lately went 541 days without a government); and a slightly pushy allegory on the angry demands of socially-constructed gender. A more straightforward narrative structure would have given the audience more space to ponder what the film is saying, rather than playing constant catch-up with its plot.

Still, it’s characteristic of a debut director to attempt a little too much; and director Michael R Roskam makes a decent fist of drawing his weighty elements into a cohesive whole. And like his leading man, he may be worth keeping an eye on: he’s now working on the pilot for a Belgian-set, English language crime series for HBO, with Michael Mann on board to produce.

Selected release from Fri 1 Feb.

Bullhead

  • 3 stars
  • 2011
  • Belgium
  • 129 min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Michael R. Roskam
  • Cast: Matthias Schoenaerts, Jeroen Perceval, Jeanne Dandoy
  • UK release: 1 February 2013

A young farmer is asked by an unscrupulous veterinarian to make a deal with a notorious beef trader. When a federal policeman is assassinated, the consequences run deep in this drama about fate and friendship. Schoenaerts is hypnotically watchable but the film (told via flashback) is rather harder to follow.

Bullhead - Trailer

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