Jacky (Mattias Schoenaerts) emerges from his truck and marches up to a cattle rancher. He rough's him up, slaps his face the stands angrily in front of him. Jacky demands that the rancher use their products when told to, only sell his beef to his Uncle and extorts that the only reason why cattle farmer is not treated worse is because he knew Jacky's dad. The action is proceeded by a long multi directional tracking shot that effectively sucks the viewer into the nasty world of livestock doping.
The scene shifts to the docks in Zeebrugge, Belgium, where Diederik (Jerone Perceval) and his associates have the back of a semi open thats full of beef Marc DeKuyper (Sam Louwyck) appears taking one package then the remainder of the cargo is transferred to a different tailer for transfer.
The third opening sequence is in Waremme, Belgium a 5 series BMW rolls into the Filippini & Fils garage. The brothers are told to get rid of the vehicle but they notice that it has a bullet hole in the bottom of the rear door frame. News reports spread that the Hormone Mafia have killed a police detective named Daems. The Filippini's realize that the vehicle in their shop was used for the crime and try to decide what to do to their Flemish cohorts.
Jacky and his group meet with Dedrick, DeKuyper and their gang to do business. Jacky knows there is something wrong with the proposed arrangement he's pacing bouncy, menacing then suddenly leaves the room. Diederik is sent to locate him. He knows Jacky but is not acknowledged. Then we learn of a horrifying event in Jacky's past to which Diederik was the only witness.
Writer/Director Michael Roskam weaves an intricate plot around the under explored bad side of the beef industry featuring as main players: farmers, cattle ranchers, vets, dealers, gangsters and cops. The plot cris-crosses Belgium moving back and forth between the French and Flemish sides. The narrative is based on true events in Belgium sparked by the death of a police officer who was investigating the trade. The script includes several extended dialogue less passages where the actor on screen has to use other tools to express their emotions.
Cinematographer Nicolas Karakatsanis' standout work permeates every frame of the film. The peak of which is the series of solo scenes with Jacky in his private space taking his cocktail of injections and pills related to his life defining event. The shadowing of the scenes and use of natural light as Jacky shadow boxes around the room is impressive. Another strong sequence is the offloading of the beef trailer. The scene is a night but it has the yellow tinge of incandescent street lighting. Karakatsanis uses the actors personal shadows and the contours of their clothing to give a clear impression that the attendees are underworld figures that work and live in the margins of Belgian society. Director Roskam also has an inclination for shooting clouds. The Production includes a couple of spectacular shots early on in the proceedings.
The casting department made several excellent choices for the supporting characters. Erico Salamone and Philippe Grand Henry as the Filippini brothers Christian and David; Mike Reus as the enforcer Richter plus child actors Robin Valvekens and David Murgia in the young Jacky and Bruno roles.
Mattias Schoenaerts is remarkable as Jacky Vanmarsenille, the Limburg cattle farmer/pharmacist/ enforcer who's emotional and social development appears to have stopped due to a terrifying event in his youth. He is easily prone to rage, broods, does not speak much and more likely to deliver a head-but than shake hands. Jeroen Perceval as Diederik is his foil, surprisingly cerebral, very cautions and full of his own nervous ticks and hidden thoughts. The Filippini brothers as noted above are also standouts in the piece their back and forth banter and comments on the Flemish highlight the uneasy relationship between the ethnic divide in Belgium.
Michael R. Roskam has authored a gripping tale exploring the underbelly of the beef industry in Belgium. The film is beautifully shot, chalked full of great performaces and tightly edited. The two lead characters are more that what one would initially expect. Overall Bullhead is a film that I can recommend.
*** out of 4.
Bullhead | Michael R. Roskam | Belgium | 2011 | 129 Minutes.
Tags: Cattle Ranching | Hormones | Beef | Childhood Trauma | Police Killing | Organized Crime.