Jacky has grown up in the middle of cattle farming where steroids were used to get more meat out of the cows. Now he has taken over the trade but finds himself in a shady deal. Moreso, he's dealing with addiction and past problems of his own, from a horrible accident in his youth, as well as being dragged in as a suspect for the assassination of a cop.
You know of "Bullhead". Yes, you do. "Bullhead"! You know it. This is a title I've heard about endlessly ever since it was nomiated for an Oscar, and I'm sure I'm not the only one. I'll always be curious about the nominated foreign titles because I know there will be less Tom Hanks and Sean Penn in them, and they're usually a bit towards the strange side (see "Dogtooth"). Frankly, it has come to be the only category I even bother looking into specifically because of the Oscars. Seeing as Njutafilms released "Bullhead", it was a great chance to give it a shot and spread my mind open with a review for it, and that's sort of where we are in the timeline right now.
Often advertised as a movie about the notorious "Hormone Mafia" in Belgium, it was with great relief that I watched a movie much more focused on a personal tragedy and fall of a man. Cattle on steroids is not something I'm very interested in, although I bet it could've been a good movie still. No, "Bullhead" is about Jacky and the incident that changed him life. He grew up on a farm where they frequently used hormones to make the cows bigger, which would ultimately give them more food. He was told it was just to give nature a push, and he would later take over the business. When Jacky was a kid he visited his father's partners farm and met a cute little girl. The only problem was that her brother, a young man suffering from extremely aggressive behavior, doesn't like the looks he is giving her. A later incident leads to her brother attacking young Jacky, and his life will never be normal from then. I don't know how much is spoiling it, but this is as far as I'm gonna go on the story of Jacky's accident. What happens to him as a child is extremely horrific and brutal, and it's something that explains everything Jacky does for the rest of the movie. It forced him to feel like an outsider and connection more with the bulls than humans. Apart from the physical and psychological scar the youth left him, he's now accidently getting into some shady business, and his name will soon be brought up as a suspect for a cop's death.
"Bullhead" keeps many balls in the air through-out, and it's one of the weaker things in the movie. The stories themselves are really captivating and intense, but because there's a lot going on they seem to forget about some important details. At times purely ignoring logic, and at other times simply leaving large bits of story out of it so we have to puzzle it together ourselves and accept it for what it is. This was a bit distracting and took me out of an otherwise very engaging movie. I think things such as these might have came into play when "Bullhead" didn't win that Oscar, but I wouldn't know for sure. It still manages to be a great movie, at least.
Matthias Schoenaerts' performance as Jacky deserves an award more than the movie itself, there is not doubt. To begin with we're slowly defending ourselves from his persona, as he comes off as a typical butch meat-head. When his past is made clear to us, we instantly see him with different eyes. Now we see a vulnerabilty under all of the muscle built from steroids and hormones. His cold looks and attitude is no longer hateful, but scarred (and scared). Violent acts are no threat, but protection for his inevitable breakdown. The further we get into his personal life and attempt to get what he wants, the more we like him. And needless to say, we're prepared to go down with him. Matthias Schoenaerts was amazing. Not to mention he cultivated about 27 kilos of muscles before tackling the role.
This is not a graphic movie but one that will feel as if it was graphic. The scene where Jacky is attacked as a kid is cringeworthy without a drop of blood, and the rest of the movie is psychologically heavy more than anything else. That said, it's not an exploitive movie at all, it doesn't push things too far or work with shock value. It's simply a crime drama with emphasis on the psychological scars of our lead character. Far from perfect it's actually suffering from leaving details and bits of development out of it (too keep it shorter? To focus on other things? Who knows) and it keeps it from being excellent, but I still reckon it's a powerful drama well worth watching if you think it's something for you. I'm sure this one would need another viewing or two for you to really connecting it all.