Posted January 28, 2013 by David Watson in Films


The bullhead of the title is cattle farmer and small-time criminal Jacky Vanmarsenille

The bullhead
of the title is cattle farmer and small-time criminal Jacky Vanmarsenille
(Matthias Schoenaerts), a raging hulk
who’s the bullyboy enforcer for his family’s blackmarket business supplying
illegal growth hormones to the local farmers in rural Belgium who inject their
cattle with the steroids, fattening the animals quicker, providing larger

So successful is the family trade in hormones, they attract
the attentions of Belgium’s “steroid mafia” who are keen to do a deal to supply
the family with drugs. At the
meeting with the head of the hormone ring, Jacky encounters Diedrick (Jeroen Perceval), a former childhood
friend who shares a dark secret about the tragic events that have led Jacky to
become a violent, steroid-addicted mess, lashing out at the world around him.

As Jacky and Didrick are sucked deeper into a conspiracy
involving the death of an undercover policeman and the search for a police
informer, Jacky makes one last stab at redemption, attempting to make a
connection with his childhood crush, glamorous perfume store owner Lucia (Jeanne Dandoy) who is unknowingly tied
to Jacky’s traumatic past.

However, haunted by tragedy, his reckless use of steroids
out of control, Jacky is a ticking timebomb primed to explode…

Made in 2011 and Oscar-nominated in 2012 as Belgium’s entry
in the Best Foreign Film category, writer/director Michael R. Roskam’s impressive debut feature Bullhead does itself a disservice by selling itself as a crime
thriller and the addition of the “steroid mafia” and their convoluted
machinations feels superfluous and distracting in what is essentially a
character study of a man eaten alive by tragedy, insecurity and the chemical
poisons he fills his body with.

So good in last year’s Rust
And Bone
, Matthias Schoenaerts is stunning and heartbreaking as the damaged
Jacky. A prisoner of his past,
consumed by rage at the hand life has dealt him, the more savagely he acts, the
more sympathy we have for Jacky, a self-created Frankenstein’s monster, and
Schoenaerts, who piled on 27 kilograms of muscle for the role is mesmerisingly
watchable, bringing a tortured vulnerability, an almost child-like sensitivity
to his raging bull. Physically
huge, he dominates the screen practically bursting not just out of his clothes
but out of his skin. And that’s
precisely where the tragedy of Jacky’s life lies; he’s a man who will never
feel at home in his own skin, tormented by the demons of his past he’ll never

Bleak and shattering, Bullhead
is a fascinating and tragic character study driven by an anguished performance
by the fantastic Schoenaerts.

David Watson

David Watson is a screenwriter, journalist and 'manny' who, depending on time of day and alcohol intake could be described as a likeable misanthrope or a carnaptious bampot. He loves about 96% of you but there's at least 4% he'd definitely eat in the event of a plane crash. Email: