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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

Bullhead (2011)


Guess there’s an underground mob out there for everyone. What a world we live in.

The underground meat market in Belgium is full of all sorts of trouble and corruption, which, for some, makes lives total hell. One such life is Jacky Vanmarsenille (Matthias Schoenaerts); although most of the problems he has in the present day, stems from an tragic incident that occurred early in his life. While hopped-up on all sorts of drugs, pills, steroids and whatever else can help him get through the day, Jacky realizes that the world he knows as the cattle-trade business, is going to be shaken up a bit now that a supposed “meat inspector” has been killed. Although the rest of his associates around him go nutso and find out any way they can get past the fuzz, totally unscathed and unharmed, Jacky couldn’t be too concerned as he’s more or less trying to move on with his messed-up life. And this usually involves him pining after a girl he’s known since he was little that he wants to be with, but doesn’t know if he can push through this travesty of a life that he has.

In case you don’t already know this by now and are wondering if I acted like a dummy and left anything out, well, surprise, surprise! I did! See, while most of Bullhead is centered around this Jacky character, the life he has had and the one he lives now, there’s a good portion that’s also dedicated to this on-going police-investigation that concerns a childhood friend of Jacky’s. And the reason why I chose not to include this synopsis up above is all because, honestly, it’s not what really gets this flick moving.

Cheer up! Stop feeling so blue...

Cheer up! Stop feeling so blue…

In fact, if there was anything that really took me away from loving this movie more than I probably should have, it was the fact that this subplot constantly reared its ugly head. And that’s not to say it wasn’t pertinent to the story; it definitely was and showed that this meat-trafficking business was as brutal and as unrelenting as any other shady business. However, whenever the movie really seemed to be paying attention to Jacky, his plight, who he is and how he gets through life on a day-to-day basis, it felt emotional, powerful and consistent, especially in terms of how interesting it could get by just being as simple as the sky. But whenever writer/director Michaël R. Roskam decided that it was time to throw in this gangster-lite tale, it just seemed to get in the way of a good thing.

Maybe had this story been all by itself, in its own movie, its own run-time and its own general basis to do whatever it wanted, whenever it wanted and how it wanted, then maybe we’d have a way better movie on our hands. But being a person who is supposed to judge a movie on the merits presented to me, and not what it could have been in my mind, I guess I have to take into consideration that this movie isn’t perfect. Doesn’t mean I have to be happy about. Sure as hell doesn’t mean I have to not mention it whenever I bring it up into conversation with my peeps. But what it does mean is that this movie could have been so much better, had they just decided to cut out a good portion of this movie that was, well, for lack of a better word, “conventional”.

But, like I was saying, the movie itself here, people!

And like I was saying about this movie here, while it seems like two stories converging into something of a relatively uneven movie, the one story is so compelling and powerful, that it’s hard for me to really walk away from this film and not say that it deserves to be seen. The reason for this to, is all because of this character, Jacky, and how the movie paints him as. Yes, because while he may be involved with this underground meat-market trading business where he jacks up his cattle on constant steroids and HGH hormones (though, to be fair, not nearly as much as he seems to do to himself), there’s still something about him and his complexities that draw us to him just about every second he’s on screen.

Some of that has to do with what happened to him as a child (which we do eventually find out and is easily the most disturbing scene in a movie that I’ve seen in quite some time), but some of that also has to do with the fact that he just wants to live his life, and a full one at that. Even if that does mean creepily shackin’ up with a girl he hasn’t seen since he was nearly 12 or so. Or, hell, even if that means using steroids to have that perfect, muscular-build to look and feel “masculine” – it doesn’t matter because to him, this is his way of living. He makes money illegally, yet somehow, it’s hard for us to really put that on the side and just realize that this is a very sad person who we can not only help but feel bad for, but even come close to rooting for whenever it seems like he’s getting close to hitting his personal goal of “being a normal person”.

Metaphor, I guess.

Metaphor, I guess.

It’s the way Jacky’s written that makes us think this; he’s not always the most moral guy, making the right decisions, but when he gets a chance to do somewhat of the right thing, he does and moves on with his life. However, most of the reason why Jacky is such an interesting, wholly complex character, is because Matthias Schoenaerts is so great as him, feeling, looking and basically, just being a person that you’d imagine who would live a life as sad and as painful as he has. Schoenaerts has become something of a bigger name since this movie came out, and it’s easy to see why – there’s something cold, dark and mysterious about his presence with Jacky that makes us feel like we must get to know him each and every second he’s around.

Some people get this way with Tom Hardy, but mostly everybody was like this with one Marlon Brando. And trust me, I know those two comparisons are pretty ballsy ones to make, but seriously, I feel like Schoenaerts and the work he puts in here is actually deserving of it. If only somewhat, that is. He practically carries this movie on his own, busted-up back and shows you that it’s not what you say with your words, it’s more of how you carry yourself from scene-to-scene, with your own body-language. Schoenaerts is great at showing us somebody who literally feels awkward and unknowing of the world around him, so much so that when it comes to having conversations with those not within his underground meat-market circle, he’s a blabbering, nervous mess. But rather than having these scenes play out like an intentional, hella-awkward comedy, Schoenaerts and Roskam make these moments hard to watch and listen to; you know he’s trying to make things right and it’s just not at all working out for him.

But, then again, that’s why we have such a thing as “heroes”, “villains”, and a little word called “anti-heroes”. Those we don’t want to like, sympathize, or even care for, but we as normal, everyday human beings can’t help but do so. It’s just in our nature.

Consensus: In Bullhead, there are two opposing stories ramming against one another, and while one is clearly not interesting, the main one featuring Matthias Schoenaerts in a stellar performance is what keeps this movie interesting, emotional and worth watching, if only for when he himself is around.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Silly, Mathais! That's not potty!

Silly, Matthias! That’s not potty!

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

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8 responses to “Bullhead (2011)

  1. ThoughtsFromTheBooth September 10, 2014 at 3:50 am

    I’m assuming thus is research for the drop? Good decision. I’ll be rewatching this before Friday as well. Fantastic film. Great write up.

  2. greercn September 10, 2014 at 6:00 am

    I love that movie. It has an unusual story and it moved me. Just for once, the subtitles didn’t bother me. Great review!

  3. cindybruchman September 10, 2014 at 12:31 pm

    Matthias Schoenaerts is fantastic here–I couldn’t keep my eyes off him. The setting, the fog, the family–great review, Dan.

  4. Pingback: Bullhead (2011) | Tinseltown Times

  5. Paul. Writer. Filmmaker. Semi-Amateur Comedian. September 15, 2014 at 12:36 pm

    Matthias Schoenaerts doesn’t need to say a word – he’s one of those who is such a brute presence he can convey emotion through sheer physicality. He’s great in RUST AND BONE (2012) too.

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