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"Bullhead": Testosterone Stunts Plot Development 

Wednesday, Feb 22 2012

In Bullhead, Michael R. Roskam's first feature, thirtyish Jacky (Matthias Schoenaerts) is a cattle-farming hulk who keeps his mini fridge stocked with Testoviron and other steroids. The brute gobbles pills and plunges syringes into his flesh to compensate for what happened 20 years earlier, when young Jacky was gelded by a teenage psychopath, who does to the lad what Charlotte Gainsbourg did to Willem Dafoe in Antichrist. Although a hazily sketched-out story line involving a dead cop, beef traders, and "the hormone Mafia underworld," with which Jacky is loosely connected, propels the movie, it inevitably circles back to his ever-present trauma from this act of savagery (and cues more ill-advised flashbacks). Bullhead, an Oscar contender in the foreign-language-film category (or, in this case, languages; the movie, set in Belgium, dwells on animosities between the Dutch-speaking Flemish and the French-speaking Walloons), sets out to prove exactly what is spelled out in the opening voiceover: "One thing is certain: You're always fucked." The sentiment, just like the repeated shots of Jacky lying in fetal position in the tub, shadowboxing, and erupting into a bestial 'roid rage, typifies the film's habit of flattening an idea rather than developing it.

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Melissa Anderson


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