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His brow is wide, his eyes wary, and his long, flat nose looks like it's intimately acquainted with various blunt objects; from the moment Jacky Vanmarsenille (Schoenaerts) lurches face-first toward the camera, you understand why Belgian director Michael R. Roskam's debut feature is called Bullhead. A cattle farmer who intimidates clients into buying his beef, Jacky moves in the same morally dubious circles as the Flemish gangsters who peddle him illegal growth hormones. His own bulky physique and hyperaggressive attitude suggest a firsthand knowledge of such enhancers, but viewers should stifle the urge to dismiss him as just another steroid-taking mook. A well-placed flashback reveals the reason behind his volatility---instantly transforming Jacky from hair-trigger thug to tragic hero.

An unexpected Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, this pulpy thriller owes its power to Schoenaerts, whose jittery-animal performance lifts this movie out of the Euro-miserablist muck. Playing Jacky like a scared child trapped in a pumped-up adult body, the actor harnesses hesitant gestures and half-muttered line readings to hammer home the film's exploration of what constitutes masculinity; he's so brilliant that you wish Roskam had stuck to making a character study instead of embedding it in a sub--Coen brothers crime film. Every time the narrative's underworld schnooks and low-level lowlifes edge their way out of the periphery, a sense of snorting impatience takes over. This is Jacky's story, and when he's grabbing Bullhead by the horns, you don't want him to let go.

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By: David Fear


Release details

Rated: R
Release date: Friday February 17 2012
Duration: 128 mins

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