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Jacky Vanmarsenille is a Belgian cattle farmer who has a habit of taking steroids and intimidating his competitors. Like his father before him, Jacky becomes involved in a business relationship with a dealer (read: the mafia) whose main business focus is illegal growth hormones and steroids for cattle. When a police officer looking into the dealer is killed during the investigation, the increased focus on Jacky's farm, combined with reappearances of a childhood friend and a girl Jacky admired as a kid, put the cattle farmer in the hotseat.
It sucks that I didn't see the Oscars this year. Not because I wasn't able to win a bet, but because I wouldn't have had a film like BULLHEAD catch my interest sooner. Yes, I'm guilty of overlooking a foreign language film like this, especially it being a feature film directorial debut making it all the more impressive. As for the film itself, BULLHEAD is one of those character studies that snags you from the get-go and keeps you entranced with what unfolds onscreen.
It's a toss-up between what really makes this film: the seemingly seasoned direction by a newcomer in Roskam, or the brilliant performance by star Matthias Schoenaerts. In his directing, Roskam is able to tell the story despite it progressing in a non-linear fashion. Periodically, the film shifts between the present day and a significant event in Jacky's life two decades prior. It's not overdone, and only serves to enhance the character of Jacky and makes the plotline about the hormones and enhancement much more meaningful in a parallel sense.
Speaking of the character of Jacky, Matthias Schoenaerts is amazing. Jacky is a damaged character, having had the previously-mentioned experience that has shaped his life and has caused him to develop a false sense of confidence and insecurity, which Schoenaerts is able to exude through Jacky's silence and body language. Who knew you could get that from scenes where Jacky is isolated in his room, and all that he's doing is shadowboxing? Obviously, the context matters, but it's still a marvel to watch. Despite all the drama that surrounds Jacky's life throughout the film, it all comes down to the struggle that Jacky has with himself, which is sad yet powerful to witness.
The film doesn't really have many shortcomings, though it does start to lose itself near the end. Roskam makes up for it by utilizing some unique scene framing and camerawork, and by that time the film has progressed so far that Roskam can afford to let up on the pedal a bit without the whole thing crashing. Really, it all comes down to Roskam's direction. He's able to trust his main actor to carry the film while focusing on other parts, and it all comes together flawlessly. If you haven't seen it by now, by all means do so.
Video: The 1080p AVC-encoded 2.35:1 transfer looks wonderful. While grain is present in the image and the film's not exactly the brightest in terms of colour, it's not enough to distract or obscure details. Black levels are nicely appropriate and don't overwhelm, which is important especially during the darker-lit action scenes.
Audio: The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track matches perfectly with the video, providing a wonderfully immersive experience. Clear, unwavering dialogue is kept to the centre channel, while the surrounds handle everything from the gentle rain to the pulsating club which also grants the low-end some work.
Once again, Drafthouse Films has given us a transparent Blu-Ray case with reversible cover art, as well as stamping this disc as Number 3 in their line of releases. Also included is a 16-page booklet with production photos and introductions by Michael Mann and a piece by Udo Kier. A digital copy is also included.
First up is an audio commentary with director MichaŽl Roskam. Roskam is unfortunately subdued in his commentary with a lot of dead spots throughout. He eventually picks up the pace a bit once he gets prodded from the producers, but it's still a bit on the boring side. It probably would've been better had Matthias Schoenaerts been there to pick up the pacing. All that said, Roskam does provide some good information on the production. If you can stay awake.
Following that is the only non-English extra, The Making of 'Bullhead'. This is a pretty good documentary, covering things such as shots, how Schoenaerts bulked up for the role (eating more than 2,400 cans of tuna will do that), discussions between the director and his actors and more.
The Interview with MichaŽl Roskam is much easier to listen to than the commentary. Roskam covers a lot of pertinent information in this interview, including the genesis of the project and how all the pieces finally came together in the end. Conversely, the Interview with Matthias Schoenaerts has the star talking amidst a mixture of clips from the film. Amongst other things, Schoenaerts talks about his fascination with the subject matter, and the 60 pounds of muscle he gained for the film.
Also included is Roskam's 2005 short film 'The One Thing to Do', which also stars Matthias Schoenaerts. This more or less acts as the precursor to Roskam's current directorial style, which is interesting if you're into looking at a director's evolution.
Lastly included is the film's theatrical trailer.
A wonderful feature film debut for a director, and a powerful character study aided by some brilliant acting, BULLHEAD definitely did deserve the Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. Beautifully shot and acted, the film is further enhanced with this Blu-Ray and the extras included. Definitely one that you should pick up.