Working on the fringes of the murky underworld and constantly pumped on steroids and hormones, the domineering Jacky (Matthias Schoenaerts) initiates a shady deal with a notorious mafioso meat trader. But when an investigating federal agent is assassinated and a woman from his traumatic past resurfaces, Jacky is forced to confront his demons and face the far-reaching consequences of his decisions.
With a strange back-story to a gripping personal tragedy drama, Bullhead is the story of an oversized Belgium cattle farmer, Jacky, who is approached by a shady vet with ties to the “hormone mafia” to discuss the beef and steroid trade. Though the train that drives this narrative down its track the crime and murder aspect of this movie is nothing but a wasteful distraction from the far more intriguing personal woes of our cattle farmer Jacky.
Played excellently by a significantly “beefed up” (excuse the pun) Matthias Schoenaerts (Rust and Bone), Jacky uses his easy access to steroids, testosterone and animal-growth hormones to turn himself in to hulking mountain of a man, whose laboured gate and burning eyes intimidate all around him. Yet there is more to Jacky than there seems and we quickly realise that some incident in his childhood has left him damaged – causing him to turn to steroids as an adult. His addiction, whether a compensatory action or the only comfort left to him following some childhood tragedy, is more than enough to hold your attention through the movie’s runtime – unfortunately however writer/director Michael R. Roskam disagrees, insisting on adding the unimaginative crime story. All to the movie’s detriment.
The incident in question, told through a surprisingly late flashback about halfway through the movie, gives an interesting insight into the motivation behind Jacky’s addiction, whilst the incident itself is a rather poignant but common childhood encounter; when the facts of life, women and sex first begin to take shape. Had the movie focused on this, and this alone, it would have been a far more effective piece of drama – the darkness of Jacky’s huge engulfing shadow mirroring the troubles that surge beneath his stretched skin and marked muscles. Instead the convoluted and unnecessary crime plot takes all the limelight from what ought to have been a gripping personal portrait movie.