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Bullhead (+ Digital Copy) [Blu-ray]
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon February 18, 2012
Format: DVD
Bullhead is the story of Jacky Vanmarsenille (Matthias Schoenaerts) a cattle farmer. He along with his business partners inject their cows with steroids and hormones to achieve the results they desire. The problem is the only thing Jacky injects more than his cows is himself as he's got some sort of chemical compound coursing through his veins at all times. Things begin to go south when Jacky makes a deal to distribute his cows to a well-known yet crooked meat trader. A federal agent is killed amongst their negotiations as Jacky is dragged into the investigation and his disturbing past comes bubbling to the surface.

Matthias Schoenaerts' performance is the first thing that will win you over. The reason why he shoots up so frequently along with what he injects himself with has this really breathtaking explanation. Schoenaerts has a short fuse the entire film and you never know when he's going to explode. That's the beauty of his performance. He's so dangerous yet you can't help but feel sympathy for the guy. Schoenaerts is a ferocious powerhouse that chews you up and spits you out like the most devastating hurricane imaginable.

Bullhead features some incredibly impressive cinematography. Belgium has never looked so beautiful. Those shots of the sky and the clouds that populate every inch of it and those lush moments of taking in the countryside speak volumes. Something as simple as grass blowing in the wind is made to look like this grand accomplishment thanks to how the film was shot. It was interesting to see characters that were out of frame become out of focus and or blurred in some way; whether they were approaching somebody in frame or walking away. It was a masterful touch.

The Belgian drama has a unique sense of perspective, as well. The dizzying staircase sequence near the end of the film is the best example. It kind of goes hand in hand with the cinematography though; a brilliant looking film is even better with distinguishing shots. Speaking of unique, the entire film is one of the more original experiences to grace the silver screen in quite some time. Bullhead does draw comparisons to films like Drive and even Bronson, but the mafia and mobster kind of storyline is presented in this rough, grainy, meaty, and intense package that hasn't been done before. Bronson is actually a really great comparison. Matthias Schoenaerts put on 59 pounds of muscle for Bullhead and Tom Hardy put on 42 pounds of muscle for Bronson. While the two films are almost nothing alike when it comes to their storylines, they're extremely similar at their core.

Bullhead is an extremely intense piece of cinema that includes a fairly bloody and hard hitting elevator sequence that rivals that infamous scene from Drive. With an incredible performance from Matthias Schoenaerts, gorgeous camera work, and a huge injection of originality, Bullhead should not be missed by anyone especially those who are looking for something different when it comes to movies. This comes highly recommended for those who enjoyed Animal Kingdom, A Prophet, Drive, and/or Bronson.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
"Bullhead" (2011 release from Belgium; 128 min.) brings the story of Jacky Vanmarsenille who raises cattle on his family farm in Flanders, Belgium (close to the language border with French-speaking Wallonia). The movie begins with Jacky becoming involved with the so-called "hormone maffia". Soon thereafter we get a second parallel story line into the movie, which starts off with some traumatic events for Jacky taking place 20 years ago when he was 12-13 years old and which cause Jacky to have trouble developing relationships with women. The first hour of the movie edvelops rather slowly, developing the characters and bringing context to the overall movie, but it sets the stage for a very intense second hour of the movie, in which it all comes together. I wish I could say more of the plot line but it really would spoil some of the surprises in the movie, so you'll just have to trust me when I say that you will be at the edge of your seat as the movie goes down to its conclusion.

Several thoughts and comments: (1) Matthias Schoenaerts does an incredible job in the title role of the movie. A very physical presence and performance. (2) Even though this is a "Flemish" movie, about one-third of the movie actually takes place in and around French-speaking Liege. I mention this as the contrast between Flanders and Wallonia is an important element of the movie. (3) This movie is not for the faint of heart: there are a number of violent and bloody scenes thoughout the movie. (4) If you can handle the violence and brutality, you are in for a treat as this movie is very well done, showing once again that you don't need $250 million (the reported budget of the upcoming Disney movie "John Carter") to produce an engaging and entertaining (if rough and tough) movie.

Last but not least, I am a native Belgian (although now a long-time resident of the US) and I couldn't help but feel some pride to see that a "little" country like Belgium can produce such a quality movie once in a while. The movie is nominated for Best Foreign Film Oscar, and I guess I'll find out later tonight if it won. No, this movie is not for everyone, but if you do like foreign and indie movies, I can assure you that you'll appreciate and enjoy "Bullhead". Highly recommended!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on June 21, 2012
Format: Blu-ray
'Bullhead' is one of those films that you will either love or hate. Not to do with the acting, perhaps to do with the subtitles, but moreover to do with the fact that it is a long, dark, foreign indie film that doesn't stray too far from the path of cow farming and the mafia that can sometimes go with that.

But, to miss out on viewing this masterpiece, to not witness what has to be one of the most incredible, passionately heartbreaking, violently stoic movies of the past decade is to have let something breathtaking avoid your gaze.

The film opens with a spoken warning that, basically, things long since buried have a way to still come back and bite you in the ass! Our lead actor, a domineering brute of a cattle farmer Jacky Vanmarsenille (played by a pumped-up-for-the-role Mattias Schoenaerts) is hooked on all manner of drugs. Why, we don't know quite yet, but nevertheless he is a force to be reckoned with - for others and himself. It turns out he is using Androstederm to fatten his cows. It fattens the animals in 8 weeks, not 10 weeks and after injected half an hour later is out of their system. It also adds 10% fat to their body weight! Jacky also uses it in small doses.

It turns out that in Belgium there is such a thing as the Hormone Mafia Underworld, which deals in such acts as this with other farmers. But why is Jacky so angry when he makes all this money, well, that is shown in a 20 year flashback to being a young boy; and the cruel, painful victim of a mentally-challenged older boy. An act that went unpunished at the time, it changed Jacky's life forever and put him instantly on the path of self-destruction.

Having taken growth hormones since being a little boy, we see how he views women, sex, gives out beatings and keeps injecting himself day in day out. His harrowing ordeal back all those years ago is hard, so very tough to watch (as a man), but suddenly explains everything as we progress.

His young friend at the time, Dieterick is now a distant adult friend of his, but out of nowhere he finds out that when he goes to do a new cow drugging deal, there is his old friend - worryingly involved in the whole thing. Now he's taking more, just to get by. Such high profile drugs as Sustanon, Mestanolone and Methyltestosterone which is making him think less and act more (hence the title of the film).

There are brutal scenes of a nightclub beating, a REAL cow gets cut open and has her calf removed (you simply couldn't fake that, for as the knife cuts the cow moans and flinches), and soon Jacky is visiting the long-lost never-had woman he could have had in his life. And so, as we get to the finale of this incredible film, Jacky is ploughed on as many drugs as he can inject and digest and takes on the world in one last stand.

The director, in the special features behind-the-scenes tells the young boy who plays the Young Dieterick in the flim that Jacky's spirit will come back and inherit the body of him in 'Bullhead 2.' The boy never flinches and says, "I'll still be playing the role, yes?" To which the director sarcastically responds with, Yes, ... but ten years from now!" We can only hope. We can only hope.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on August 16, 2012
Format: DVD
There are a lots of assorted characters in this very long subtitled film and sometimes it's difficult to identify their reltionships or to differentiate between them. Add to that confusion, some type of muddled criminal activity and undercover police work involving ,"The Belgian hormone mafia." What is portrayed rather vividly, however, is a childhood trauma and its impact on the adult life of the victim. Difficult to watch these segements which are sad, realistic and convincing.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 3, 2012
Format: Amazon Instant Video
After seeing the trailer I was anticipating this film like no other. I'm well versed in foreign cinema, but I haven't seen that many modern films from Belgium. I had heard mixed reviews which is usually a good sign, by that I mean the art crowd may applaud it, while the mainstream crowd may detest it. I like to think I'm somewhere in between the art and mainstream crowd.

From the very beginning the lead actor is absolutely mesmerizing. His mannerisms, physical appearance, and the way in which he seems to chew liquid is astounding and a sight to behold. However, here in lies the problem with the film. Instead of focusing the film on the main lead and creating a film that's an absolute character study, the film is muddled with too many side characters, too many plots and too many scenes without the main character. The film is like a hybrid between a character a study and a police procedural, except the character study far outweighs the other in both meaning and content. Had the writer/director focused more on the incredible lead character and cut the fat off of other characters, I imagine the film would have been much better.

In the end, Bullhead is still a good movie. The cinematography is solid, as well as the acting. No other actor comes close to the lead, and you begin to cherish every scene he is in, and grow tired of those he's not. There's nothing groundbreaking about the story, and it's often weighed down by unnecessary scenes/side plots. Still, the film has a lot of original elements, and is worth seeing once.

If the success of the Academy Award nomination for Bullhead can help shed light on the Belgium film industry, I will anticipate what their filmmakers can come out with next.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 24, 2013
Format: DVD
Some may call writer/director Michaël R. Roskam's feature debut film "Bullhead" ("Rundskop") a crime drama, but I think it would be more accurate to call the Belgian film a character study. The film's tension comes less from the plot that is sometimes hard to follow, than from the exceptional performance of the star Matthias Schoenaerts as Jacky Vanmarsenille, a young cattle farmer making a deal involving growth hormones.

The shady deal results in a chain reaction of events including a murder of a police officer investigating illegal use of hormones, and Jacky's reunion with his childhood friend Diederik (Jeroen Perceval). As the film slowly (very slowly) unfolds, secrets about Jacky's past still traumatizing him will be revealed.

The narrative is complicated with a few flashbacks (where a very painful thing happens to a young boy), but the presence of Matthias Schoenaerts as Jacky almost makes us forget that. He is the driving force of the film throughout, as we come to understand what he has lost but still yearns for. The film was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film (but lost to "A Separation") and that is not surprising.

But the unnecessarily complex narrative structure including subplots about a police detective, and some uninspired moments involving the police investigation are so disappointing. Frankly I don't see the point of telling a story (itself a good one) in this confusing way. Or have I missed something?

What you will not miss is the powerhouse acting from Matthias Schoenaerts. His unpredictable character itself is well worth your watching.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on November 11, 2014
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
This whole film was tense. It was wound tight like a guitar string and I didn't know when it would snap, whip back, and cut my face open.

This is Jacky's story. There are other characters but I was focused like a laser on Jacky. I found this movie after loving Schoenaerts in Rust & Bone. He blew me away in that movie but in this one he obliterated me. Jacky is a cow farmer who is constantly injecting himself with steroids and hormones. the cows are injected too and this movie has quite a bit about the shady dealings that go on behind the scenes in the cow farming business. That was surprising. Anyway, Jacky is constantly pumped full of chemicals and whatnot. Have you ever heard of 'roid rage? Times that by a thousand. Jacky is like being surrounded by a million grenades...you know they're going to go off and what it happens, watch out.

There are flashbacks to Jacky's childhood that hint they will reveal his obsession with steroids and his very screwed up interactions with women. Many people have said the beginning of this film is slow. It was, I guess, but for me it was a slow burn that I knew would end up setting the characters' world on fire.When Jacky's past trauma is revealed...shocking doesn't quite cover it. Shocking doesn't cover it at all. It's so violent and traumatic to watch.

I thought that would be it but the movie kept going, I kept watching, and that wire snapped and definitely cut me open. I'm not sure a movie ending has ever made my chest hurt as much as this one did. Schoenaerts broke my heart. Absolutely broke it.

When I review movies I try not to give too much of them away, so I just give my impressions, feelings, and emotions while watching. This film was a revelation about the cruelty of children, the loss of innocence, the nature of violence and how it takes root and grows. I always want to watch it again but I'm also scared to have my emotions played so skillfully. I'll tell you one thing, watch it because it's worth it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 5, 2014
Format: Blu-ray
"Wow"..that's how I felt when this movie wrapped up. Not necessarily "wow that was great" or "wow that was bad"...just "wow".

First off, this is yet another depressing-as-heck look at life and the harsh twists and turns it can smack folks with (one "folk" in particular in this movie). The folks in this flick getting smacked by life also just happen to be everyday Belgians who earn a living raising cattle and livestock, but who are also involved in the trade and use of growth hormones for the cattle they're raising. Seems like a boring enough setup for a story, but this one STILL plays out with big impact as written and directed by Michaël R. Roskam, and acted by the predominantly Flemish cast. I'm not sure I've EVER seen an uplifting or hopeful movie come out of Belgium. There are a few goofy comedies (like Iedereen Beroemd - Everybody's Famous) that aren't too depressing, but for the most part, the prominent flicks from Belgium are gritty, in-your-face, and emotionally taxing. This pretty much fits the same mold.

Don't want to go into the plot, as it has been amply described in other reviews, but I wanted to give any folks considering this movie a little help to decide whether it's worth renting (I wouldn't consider buying this just because I'm not sure I'd want to watch it multiple times...it's just too much of a bummer, though for me, a bummer worth watching at least once).

Some pluses:

** Cinematography
As I've seen in a few other Belgian movies, the landscape almost plays a supporting character. Long shots of farm fields and morning mist punctuate scene transitions and very much add to the mood of the film. Everything just seems so "real-life" and the filming captures it wonderfully.

** Performances
Matthias Schoenaerts, the lead, is awesome as a steroid-addicted, broken shell of a man (as least what he thinks a man is supposed to be), heavily shaped by a childhood tragedy and struggling to get by day-to-day. He IS the majority of the weight of the movie. But, the rest of the supporting actors are all solid as well and there are no weak performances to detract from the rest of the story.

** Plot
Who would have thought an interesting enough story line could be developed around tragedy and growth hormone peddling Belgian ranchers? I personally preferred the way the plot wasn't clear at first. The viewer is allowed to do a little guess work regarding who is who and how the different elements in the story all relate.

Some negatives:

** It's just so dang heavy
The whole mood, the story, the performances. MAN, there's nothing that puts a smile on your face in the whole movie. And there's not supposed to be, so if you realize that going in, hopefully it's less of a negative.

** Story flow
It's a little hard to follow at first, starting in supposed present-day and then flashing back at odd times to the main character's youth. It all comes together later in the story (mostly), but it's a little odd at first.

So, 3.5 stars with a round-up to 4. Worth watching for fans of storytelling and cinema (I think), but maybe not a great Friday night popcorn flick for forgetting your troubles. Well...that being said, you might might actually be counting your blessings after watching this.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 19, 2012
Format: Amazon Instant VideoVerified Purchase
One of 2011 best movies. It was one of of those movies that sticks with you, not a predictable US film
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 12, 2012
Format: Blu-rayVerified Purchase
This is a seriously gripping movie from beginning to end. fantastic cinematography. the story and emotions will haunt you after the credits role.
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