• Bullhead

    Released by: Drafthouse Films
    Released on: Jun 26, 2012.
    Director: Michael R. Roskam
    Cast: Matthias Schoenaerts, Jerden Percval, Jeanne Dandoy, Barbara Sarafian
    Year: 2011
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    The Movie:

    Michael R. Roskam’s feature film debut is 2011’s Bullhead, a film based around a cattle farmer named Jacky Vanmarsenille (Matthias Shoenaerts) who lives in a rural part of Belgium where he tries to make a living tending the farm. He also has a taste for steroids, in fact he’s so fond of them that he gets mixed up with some local mobsters masquerading as meat traders who are dealing them to him. Things get complicated when a federal agent investigating the case winds up dead and a women Jackie once had a relationship with resurfaces.

    Forced with confronting the reality that he has made for himself, Jackie winds up in some serious trouble, especially when the cops start poking around his farm.

    Grim, but not unnecessarily so, Bullhead is a pretty fascinating mix of character study and straight up crime film shot with enough style to ensure that it looks good but not so much as to take away from the performances. Leading man Matthias Shoenaerts definitely steals the show here, delivering a fantastic turn as the mixed up Jacky, saying as much with his body language as he needs to though handling the dialogue just as well. He’s fantastic in the rule and first time feature filmmaker Roskam was right to have cast him in the part. He’s an intimidating presence and even the scenes in which he’s pumped up and alone in his room boxing by himself carry some serious weight with them. Shoenarts truly makes the part his own and the movie really is all the better for it.

    Without wanting to spoil the details of the plot that make Bullhead so interesting, let it suffice to say that Roskam’s story is a clever one, a tale that makes it clear in no uncertain terms that the actions of its lead are very definitely going to have consequences without telegraphing the ending to us. There are some solid surprises here which are completely in keeping with the tone that the movie sets very early on and which fit the story very naturally, never coming across as gimmicky. It’s also set to a score that’s entirely effective and never once out of place with the story being told.

    Some key visuals make this one that’s easy to watch and which will impress those looking for some artistic intent behind the lens, but more importantly the story and the performances pull you in and make you care about where all of this is going. There are a few spots where the plot jumps around, something that might not sit well with those who need their movies to be completely linear, but it only serves to add another layer of intrigue to the film and to offer some important details about Jacky’s past. All in all, this is a pretty amazing debut and hopefully a sign of things to come from someone who is very obviously a gifted filmmaker.


    Drafthouse Films’ Blu-ray release of Bullhead looks very good in AVC encoded 2.35.1 widescreen 1080p high definition. Shot on film, the movie shows very good detail even in the many darker scenes that make up its running time. Black levels are nice and deep, skin tones look lifelike and accurate and texture is consistently impressive. Close up shots have the most to show off, especially when they come in tight on the faces of the performers but medium and long distance shots fare well too. No complaints here, the image is very strong across the board showing no problems with noise reduction, edge enhancement or print damage.

    The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track, in the film’s native French, also sounds very good. If this isn’t as immersive a track as a more action intensive film might provide the mix still makes good use of the rear channels by spreading the score around effectively and using some good ambient and background foley to help build mood and atmosphere. Dialogue is crisp, clean and clear and the optional English subtitles are easy to read and free of any typos. An optional Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix is also included.

    Extras start off with a commentary track from writer/director Michael R. Roskam. At first the filmmaker seems to be struggling to find the right pace, sort of drifting in and out of the talk, but once he gets ten to fifteen minutes in, he picks it up and winds up offering some really welcome insight into what was going through his mind as he made this film. He talks about casting, locations, staging some of the action in the film and tone but also talks about certain inspirations that had an effect on the project and more.

    From there we move on to the featurettes starting with the twenty minute Making Of Bullhead documentary that focuses on what it was like on set and on giving us a look behind the scenes of the movie as it was being made. It’s not as in-depth in terms of getting into the filmmakers’ heads or anything like that, the commentary covers that aspect, but it does do a pretty good job of showing what it was like to have worked on certain aspects of this production and it shows what Shoenaerts had to do to prepare for the part, which is quite fascinating to hear about. We also get a couple of video interviews, the first of which is with star Matthias Schoenaerts who talks about his character, what it was like working with Roskam and his thoughts on the movie as whole. Roskam also sits in front of the camera for a chat about the film, covering some of the same ground that he did in his commentary track but with maybe more emphasis on his inspiration for the picture. Also worth checking out is Roskam’s short film from 2005, The One Thing To Do, which also stars Matthias Schoenaerts. It runs just short of twenty-five minutes and it definitely serves as an interesting foreshadow of things to come, making it a nice inclusion on this disc.

    Rounding out the extras is the film’s original theatrical trailer, an insert booklet of liner notes that come courtesy of filmmaker Michael Mann and actor Udo Kier, and a code to download a digital copy of the movie. The cover art for this release is also reversible and comes in a transparent keepcase.

    The Final Word:

    Bullhead is periodically a grim and challenging film but don’t let that dissuade you from seeking it out. The movie shows some great storytelling skills from director Roskam and really benefits from some great camerawork and completely believable performances. Drafthouse Films have done a bang up job on the Blu-ray disc, loading the film with extras and offering it up in excellent quality. All in all, this is a pretty fantastic release for a film that deserves to find a wider audience.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Randy G's Avatar
      Randy G -
      Saw this in the theatre, it's great.