James Reviews Michael R. Roskam’s Bullhead [Blu-Ray Review]

Bullhead (or Rundskop as it’s known in it’s native Belgium) was a film that took me by surprise last year at Fantastic Fest. So much so that it still held a place in my heart for my top 10 list, high atop at the number 3 spot. I distanced myself from the film, waiting for the Drafthouse Films Blu-ray release, to see if my feelings would be the same. And they weren’t. Somehow, I feel even stronger about this film, seeing more details I had missed before and being even more impressed by Roskam’s debut feature film. It’s a film I can’t properly review again, instead picking out certain ideas and themes I noticed this time around, but if you want to read a ‘proper’ review, you can go here to see that.

It wasn’t necessarily a hard thing going back and watching Bullhead. I was anticipating it, wondering would I still feel sadness for Jacky (a star making performance from Matthias Schoenaerts), but this time the whole Batman comparison came into play. It’s something I had talked with people about for a bit, where a young boy goes through a tragic moment in his life at an impressionable age and over compensates later in life by transforming themselves into a larger than life character. Batman of course looks at the bat as his symbol, becoming this beast in a way when he goes off to fight crime. Jacky is around cattle, his family in the cattle business, and also being around steroids becomes the cattle himself. Or more like a bull, the alpha male, because he needs to show that he is a true man. His face becoming bull like, eyes closer together, nose half broken from fights he’s gotten into throughout the years. We don’t need to see a lifetime of these transformations, instead it comes at us from the very beginning and starts to balance itself throughout the film.

Jacky is introduced to us in a scene where he intimidates a man who might not want to do business with his family. He smacks him around a bit, nostrils flared, ready to gore this man because he’s done his family wrong. An introduction like that says more for the character, especially as he walks away, shaking a bit and doing some drug to relieve himself, we see a shattered man. And this is in the first 3 minutes of the film. Also, the boxing stance (which is displayed beautifully on the box art) are beautiful scenes, quiet, as he trains for his day to day life as an enforcer, in his small bathroom (which Roskam even admits to being Jacky’s very own Batcave). And he still yearns for the girl he saw as a young kid, with a couple of pictures of her on his wall. Roskam makes a great point to say it isn’t in stalker territory, which is true. It comes across as a remembrance and a ‘what could have been?’ more than anything else.

But this isn’t the Matthias Schoenaerts’ show alone. We have a group of fine actors, complimenting one another, and as you delve into the behind the scenes of the film, you get to know a bit about each of them, even when they might just be on the screen for a total of 10 minutes. But a lot of my praise this time around goes to Jeroen Perceval, who plays Jacky’s childhood pal Diederik Maes, but who he hasn’t seen since childhood because of this specific tragedy that I will not spoil for people who just haven’t had the chance to check the film out, even after my constant words about it on here and on the podcast. Perceval says so much with his conflicted portrayal of Diederik, a man who has to go undercover in the criminal underworld, try to get intel for the police, have to deal with his attraction with one of the cops and also bump into his once best friend again, especially in these circumstances. It’s a wild ride, which we can get behind, through flashbacks of their childhood and the present day, we wish these two could make amends and shake hands, hug, what have you. But most crime films don’t end on a high note.

But you want to know about what Drafthouse Films has put on this Blu-ray. It’s packed with some great stuff, such as a running commentary with director Michael R. Roskam, who is having a conversation with Tim League throughout the film. It’s very informative and goes into detail about specific shots, how much Schoenaerts trained, why certain shots look like works of art, and is one I’d revisit again or tell anyone in film school to listen to. We get a Making of Bullhead featurette, which has a bit from everyone involved in the film. We also get two short video interviews, one with director Roskam and the other with star Schoenaerts which give even more insight into the making of the film. They’ve even included Roskam’s 2005 short The One Thing To Do, which was a nice surprise and this being the first time seeing it, you notice a ton of talent in less than 30 minutes, which also shows Roskam working with Schoenaerts back then. A trailer rounds off the video extras, but the booklet is fun because we get little pieces from director Michael Mann and actor Udo Kier, which was great little surprises to read from two individuals I enjoy immensely, showing their love for this film.

This film has been compared to shows like The Wire and films such as Goodfellas, Gomorrah and Animal Kingdom, and I guess one can see the relevance to go to other crime related dramas, especially that have some sort of tragedy sprinkled throughout. But this is a film that I still liken as a character study (like Refn did with Tom Hardy in Bronson) and asks the question “What makes a man?” Do muscles make a man? Does beating up someone who wrongs you in a small irrelevant way to the point of brain damage make you man? Or trying to intimidate someone who changed your life forever? These are questions, among many others, that are asked by Roskam. Some I can answer, some I’m still asking myself almost a year later when I first got to see this, and again after watching it multiple times this week. This is a must own disc, one that is very affordable on Amazon right now.

This is the third Drafthouse Film to be released on Blu, the others being Four Lions (which we all remember as my number 1 film from 2010) and The FP (a film I haven’t had the chance to see yet). So far they’ve had an amazing track record, and are one of a handful of distributors that I get excited hearing about their acquisitions. Maybe one day we’ll have a Drafthouse Films podcast, but for now we’ll just spread the word this way. Bullhead is a tragic tale, little hope or redemption but in the end you just want to revisit Jacky and Diedrick and wish for something better from their lives.


Order the Blu-ray from Amazon

Order the Blu-ray from Amazon