Here's a mafia story you won't get from Scorsese. "Bullhead" rips the lid off Belgium's mob traffic in banned cattle hormones.
Despite the unlikely setup, this Oscar-nominated thriller proves that where illegal substances are concerned, one line of trafficking is as deadly as another.
Jacky (Matthias Schoenaerts) is the juiced-up strongman of his cattle-rearing family, the enforcer who slaps sense into upstart farmers when they don't buy his "products" or sell their steers as they've been told. Though he's a 6-foot-plus wall of brawn, there's something wounded beneath his bravado. He still goes by a kid's name, and the violent flaw in his character traces back to a childhood trauma that continues to haunt him.
Writer/director Michael Roskam reveals the shocking nature of that incident in a scene that's both discreet and horrific.
Like the cattle that are being artificially bulked up for slaughter, sad-eyed Jacky with his ever-present syringes of steroids and testosterone is powerful, overgrown and vulnerable. The film follows him through his awkward, lovelorn fascination with a local perfume salesgirl, a stammering, inept relationship that spirals back to Jacky's childhood ordeal.
"Bullhead" is an intriguing rural Euro noir, with its rival camps of French-speaking Walloons and Dutch-speaking Flemish.
The ensemble includes a host of singular supporting characters, from a pair of squabbling auto mechanics who can't agree on how to manage their chop shop to a criminal with a crush on the gay policeman handling his case.
But it's Schoenaerts, who spent two years bulking up for his role, who carries the film on his broad shoulders. He fills the screen physically and emotionally, as well.