There's no way you can really prepare yourself for what lies inside 'Bullhead.' It wallows in sadness and rage, but incorporates a point of view that seems wholly unique. Jacky (Matthias Schoenaerts) is a tormented soul simply because one freak act of depraved humanity changed him completely. It happened when he was a child and he now lives with the painful reminder of the day that changed everything. Struggling with his own existence and masculinity, Jacky turns to the same steroids that he injects into his herd of cows. Jacky belongs to the Belgian "hormone mafia," a group of violent individuals who pack their cows with steroids in order to sell them for more money. Jacky uses these same drugs on himself, becoming a muscle-bound man brimming with roid-rage.
I've gone back and forth on revealing what happens to Jacky at a young age that changes him forever. I'm sure you can find it out in numerous other reviews, but I won't disclose it here. Director Michael R. Roskam saw fit to reveal the troubling event through a flashback mid-way through the movie, which to me says that he meant for it to be surprising to the audience. To make them reconsider the way they were already thinking about Jacky before knowing exactly what happened to him to make him the way he is. Suffice to say, the incident is every bit as gruesome and stomach-churning as the infamous rape scene in 'The Kite Runner.'
The movie flashes back and forth between the present day, where Jacky and his crew are looking to make a deal with another big piece of the hormone mafia in order to rake in a lot of money, and the past where Jacky runs around with his close friend Diederik. The two are just reaching the age where young boys start noticing the beauty in females, most notably breasts, legs, and lips. Jacky is obsessed with a neighbor girl named Lucia, who happens to be closely tied with that fateful day. It was her he was spying on when everything happened.
What we get is a movie that is part interpersonal drama and part police procedural. All this time the police are watching Jacky and his colleagues to see if they're involved in the hormone trade. Jacky continues pumping up with steroids in order to forget the past, but he can't. He's still obsessed with Lucia and watches her from afar when they're older. His outlook on life is bleak and dark as evidenced by his opening monologue, "No matter how long ago it was, there will always be someone to bring it all back. Because no matter what you do or think, one thing is for sure, you're always fucked now, tomorrow, next week or next year, until the end of time, fucked."
'Bullhead' is dark as it travels through the mind of a man who is slowly turning himself into a mindless bull trapped inside human skin. He shoves needle after needle into his buttocks as the steroids course through his veins. 'Bullhead' was nominated for an Academy Award in the foreign language category mostly due to the brilliant portrayal of Jacky from Flemish actor Matthias Schoenaerts. Schoenaerts gained almost 60 pounds of pure muscle mass for the role. He's a hulk of a man; an intimidating force on screen. Yet, he plays Jacky with such meticulous vulnerability. It's something to behold really. Here's this giant force of muscle and sinew, reduced to tears because no matter what he does, no matter how hard he tries, in his own words, he's always "fucked."
The way the movie meshes the present day police investigation with the childhood trauma works very well. This movie could've ended up a muddled mess as it tries to take on so many different aspects and genres, but it makes it work. Centered in the story, though, are Jacky and his constant struggle within himself. A struggle that will, sadly, never be worked out. Some things just can't be forgotten.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This is the third Draft House Films Blu-ray release. They're doing their own type of Criterion collectible thing here. I just reviewed 'The FP' and 'Bullhead' has some of those same features, specifically a reversible cover that you can either use the movie's original theatrical poster art or you can switch it around and use the art that was conceived by the Mondo poster boutique and artist Jay Shaw when the movie was nominated for an Academy Award. The spine has the number 3 on it as well so you can start lining up the Draft House releases on your shelf in consecutive order.
The disc is distributed by Image Entertainment. The movie comes on a 25GB Blu-ray disc. There is a small booklet contained within with short essays from director Michael Mann, and actor Udo Kier. It is a Region A release.
Despite being on a 25GB Blu-ray Disc I thought that 'Bullhead's visuals were quite good and harbored little artifacting. The presentation does have its drawbacks though and we'll get to those, but first we'll talk about the good.
Detail is strong, even though the movie is supposed to look gritty by its own nature. It's easy to see each and every inhuman ripple in Jacky's massive arms and shoulder muscles. Shadows, of which there are many, are extremely well delineated. There is a club scene midway through the movie that features some flatter blacks that seem to crush out some detail, but that's really the only place where shadows seemed overwhelming. Instead Shadows emphasize facial features and accentuate the already huge muscle mass that makes up Jacky's body. Lines are clear and concise. Contrast is well done.
There was a spot of banding that I noticed during a fadeout, but it didn't seem like that big of a deal. There are also a couple spots where noisy blips and specks can be spotted, but again, they aren't all that distracting to begin with. 'Bullhead' is dark, and foreboding and the visuals do a great job reflecting the movie's intended feelings.
I was also impressed with the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. Yes 'Bullhead' is quite talkative and has little in the way of impactful action-centric audio, but the mix performs well given the inherent genre constraints.
Dialogue is always presented clearly through the front and center channels. The English subtitles seemed to be perfectly synched with the speech on screen (there's nothing worse than subtitles that seem to pop up a half a second after characters start speaking). Rear channels pick up quite a bit of ambient sound, especially for such a quiet film. The most notable rear activity comes whenever we're presented with a herd of cows. Their moos echo through the sound stage. Raf Keunen's original music adds retrained moodiness to the movie and it eerily travels throughout the channels. LFE is light, but does get a chance to shine during the aforementioned club scene which plays strictly techno music. 'Bullhead' features a pleasing audio mix that should make fans happy.
'Bullhead' is a deeply engrossing film. A movie that will lurk around in your head long after you see it. It's certainly an effective film, one which will affect the way you think and feel while you're watching it. Matthias Schoenaerts is a force on screen in terms of sheer physical size, but also in regard to his innate acting ability. It takes skill to play a brute like Jacky, who seems so physically strong, but inside is so emotionally damaged and vulnerable. With some noteworthy audio and video, and a healthy slew of extras, I'd recommend 'Bullhead' to just about anyone I think could stomach the subject matter.