By Kate Crocker
“Bullhead” wasn’t anything I expected it to be.. Steroids, yes, but Belgium Mafia, cattle farming, and obsessive love? If someone would’ve asked my opinion about this mish mash of a story idea, my reaction would’ve been a healthy spoonful of skepticism. But “Bullhead” earned its Oscar nomination for Best Foreign film with an intense, crime drama that unfolds into a shattering tragedy and character study of the young, steroid riddled, hormone hopped, cattle farmer Jacky Vanmarsenille (Matthias Schoenaerts) who faces his traumatic past after he initiates a deal with a notorious mobster beef trader.
“Bullhead” is writer and director Michael Roskam’s first full length feature film, he makes an impressive introduction, communicating clearly and consistently a story and character that struggle for peace and resolution until the end credits roll. And he does it all in rural Belgium, a quaint, quiet setting that isolates his aggressive central character, and makes his behavior feel more dangerous than the typical tough guy in the big city. The choice feels delicate and it shows. And Roskam took the same careful consideration to subtly divulge information throughout the film. He doesn’t spoon-feed the audience information; instead he creates a compelling pace by divulging information and pushing the story forward, with his main character, Jacky.
And Matthias Schoenaerts has an immediate presence on screen as the quiet, threatening and unpredictable protagonist of the film, Jacky Vanmarsenille. The actor’s breakout performance is subtle yet powerful and feels carefully designed with intense body language and minimal communication, which at times is reduced to mere guttural grunts. This simplistic approach pays off and elevates every scene as the character fights to accept and rehash his tragedy without pandering to the audience for an emotional reaction. It feels genuine. And with a film so heavily character driven, it made the movie and proved Michael Roskam and Matthias Schoenaetrts as serious talents. I can’t wait to see what they both do next, but for now, I hope “Bullhead” comes away with statuette on Oscar night because it definitely has my vote!