Combustible Celluloid
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With: Matthias Schoenaerts, Jeroen Perceval, Jeanne Dandoy, Barbara Sarafian, Tibo Vandenborre, Frank Lammers, Sam Louwyck
Written by: Michael R. Roskam
Directed by: Michael R. Roskam
MPAA Rating: R for some strong violence, language and sexual content
Language: Dutch, French, with English subtitles
Running Time: 124
Date: 02/02/2011

Bullhead (2011)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Raw Meat

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The Best Foreign Language Film category of the Academy Awards is corrupted by stupid rules, and the result is that the nominations are usually wasted on tame, timid movies that have been officially approved by a given country's government. So it's a refreshing surprise to see a movie as genuinely messed up as Bullhead -- from Belgium -- nominated in this category. (The movie was also featured at this year's San Francisco IndieFest, which is another mark of its coolness.)

Matthias Schoenaerts stars as Jacky Vanmarsenille, a huge, twitchy mass of a man with one slightly droopy eye; he always appears to be moving either slightly too slow or too fast. Jacky works in Belgium's corrupt meat industry, helping raise chemically enhanced animals for mass consumption. The family's veterinarian suggests a new client: Marc Decuyper (Sam Louwyck) a vicious criminal who is responsible for the death of a cop.

Jacky doesn't like the smell of the deal, especially after seeing Decuyper's helper Diederik (Joroen Perceval), with whom Jacky shares a sinister past. A lengthy flashback explains why Jacky is such a mess, and why he's constantly injecting hormones into himself. At the same time, Jacky tracks down a woman who also fits into his life's puzzle.

Writer/director Michael R. Roskam makes his feature directorial debut here, and it's a solid crime film that gets by more on sheer, crazy attitude than it does emotional risk. The real hero here is Schoenaerts, who gives a truly damaged performance (and apparently bulked up for the role). Likewise, the bald, slightly mousy Perceval brings a fascinating confidence to his scenes. He may not be great in a fight, but he knows how to navigate this world of gangsters and thugs.

Bullhead probably has very little chance of actually winning an Oscar (the awards take place this weekend), but the fact that it's here at all hopefully suggests that even the voters are getting tired of the same old junk.

Drafthouse Films released a top-notch new Blu-ray edition. Extras include a commentary track with director Roskam, in English, with an unidentified interviewer. There's a 22-minute making-of featurette, interviews, an early short film by Roskam, a trailer, and a liner notes booklet.

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