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Matthias Schoenaerts, Jeroen Perceval, Jeanne Dandoy, Barbara Sarafian, Tibo Vandenborre ... see more see more... , Frank Lammers , Kris Cuppens

Domineering cattle farmer Jacky Vanmarsenille (Matthias Schoenaerts), constantly pumped on steroids and hormones, initiates a shady deal with a notorious mafioso meat trader. When an investigating fed... read more read more...eral agent is assassinated and a woman from his traumatic past resurfaces, Jacky must confront his demons and face the far-reaching consequences of his decisions. -- (C) Drafthouse Films

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80% liked it

3,382 ratings


85% liked it

68 critics

R, 2 hr. 4 min.

Directed by: Michael R. Roskam

Release Date: February 17, 2012

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DVD Release Date: June 26, 2012

Stats: 260 reviews


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Flixster Reviews (260)

  • January 5, 2013
    The Belgian film "Bullhead" stars Matthias Schoenaerts as a cattle farmer who traffics in black-market steroids to fatten his livestock and himself. Over time, we learn why he's fixated on developing his musculature. I won't give away the details. I'll just say that it stems from... read more an event in his childhood and that this event is horrifying.

    The film was nominated for an Oscar as Best Foreign-Language Film of 2011. (It lost to Iran's "A Separation.")

    "Bullhead" is effective and haunting, and Schoenaerts' performance is magnetic. But it has a number of weak aspects. First and foremost, its story is all over the place. There are about six different stories chaotically thrown together. If the film had focused more on the Schoenaerts character, it would have been greatly improved.

    Instead, first-time writer/director Michael Roskam introduces us to just about everyone in the man's village, including the boy who witnessed Schoenaerts' childhood atrocity and is now secretly in love with him. And the sister of the perpetrator, whom Schoenaerts has secretly loved for 20 years. Plus about 15 men with whom Schoenaerts is involved in the black market. Plus several police officers closing in on Schoenaerts and his fellow farmers in an attempt to crack the black market.

    Everything but the kitchen sink is thrown in. I often complain about thin stories in contemporary cinema. Almost as frustrating is when a filmmaker has too many story ideas and cannot edit himself. Someone has to teach Roskam how to narrow the focus of his stories so his audience is less dizzy and confused.

    Focus and prioritization is required during the writing of the screenplay. It also must happen in the editing booth when the shooting is done. Roskam doesn't know how to edit there either. For this film to have a 125-minute running time is ridiculous. Roskam definitely had 90 minutes of good story-telling in the footage he shot. He couldn't find a way to cut away the excess to spotlight those 90 choice minutes. I could see many viewers tuning out at 100 minutes, just from exhaustion. There's nothing more annoying than two hours of meandering footage.

    However, there are some amazing moments in "Bullhead," and it's nice to see a young male filmmaker turning his attention to the remarkable fixation on musculature among males today. Is it a form of self-worship? Body worship? When did this fascination with male muscles begin? In the 1980s? That appears to be when it started skyrocketing as a cultural phenomenon. It's quite astonishing and appears to be global. What does it say about the male psyche today?

    I appreciate very much that Roskam is one of the few filmmakers venturing into this thematic territory. He has a lot of talent. Did he deserve an Oscar nomination on his first film? I would say no. I don't know who was responsible for that, but I think it was entirely too generous.

    But if Roskam gets better at editing his own ideas and his own footage, he could turn into a major filmmaker. He's already responsible for turning Schoenaerts into a global movie star. (Schoenaerts currently stars in "Rust and Bone" with Marion Cotillard.) What's next for Roskam? I'm eager to watch and find out.
  • October 22, 2012
    Fresh, beautifully executed, Matthias Schoenaerts is amazing. If the Academy hadn't made a political pick for the Oscar in 2012, this would have won!
  • October 9, 2012
    "Sometimes in a man's life stuff happens that makes everyone go quiet"

    A young cattle farmer is approached by a veterinarian to make a deal with a notorious beef trader.


    MichaŽl R. Roska... read morem's finely directed first feature is a character-driven and plot-driven drama that draws an incisive portrayal of a huge Limburgian man who has been marked for life by a terrible occurrence from the past that now confronts him and becomes even more upsetting. This unconventional tale of a Belgian underground crime syndicate that is shaken when a local policeman is killed, contains a wide range of rare characters and is both an atmospheric mystery and an internal study of character about friendship and the afflicting consequences of lost innocence. Finely photographed by cinematographer Nicolas Karakatsanis, this at times humorous, violent and well-paced thriller is reinforced by Matthias Schoenaerts' riveting acting performance in the leading role. Schoenaerts has a short fuse the entire film and you never know when he's going to explode. That's the beauty of his performance. He's so dangerous yet you can't help but feel sympathy for the guy. Schoenaerts is a ferocious powerhouse that chews you up and spits you out like the most devastating hurricane imaginable. An unsettling and engagingly narrated independent film which gained a nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at the 84th Academy Awards.
  • March 16, 2012
    A hypermasculine, steroid-shooting bull of a man seeks revenge for a boyhood wrong amidst the Belgian agrarian hormone trading underground. A well-plotted crime drama with a twist that makes you feel a strange sympathy for its intensely frightening protagonist.
  • March 12, 2012
    Not really about the mafia of hormones as it is about a tormented man insecure about his masculinity - but the film's misled attempt to focus on both subjects makes it too complicated, with so many unnecessary scenes. Still, Schoenaerts is perfect as the fascinating protagonist.
  • October 21, 2013
    In "Bullhead," Jacky(Matthias Schoenarts) has not only been using steroids to build up his bulk, which in any case comes in handy when using less than gentle persuasion on recalcitrant customers to stay with the family beef business. Of course, they might have reason to stay awa... read morey, considering the hormones that are injected into the lifestock. That also leads to a cop being killed, with David(Philippe Grand'Henry) and Christian(Erico Salamone), a couple of mechanics, given the tough job of deposing of the evidence. All of which has Diederik(Jeroen Perceval) on edge, which is no surprise considering his being a police informant.

    "Bullhead" is an intriguing and realistic, yet flawed, take on 'Beauty and the Beast.' That's not the only split here, as this is filmed in Belgium, a country that is divided(I had no idea there was an actual language line but apparently so) in more ways than one. Still, the Belgian hormone mafia sounds only a little more threatening than the Belgian waffle mafia. As Jacky wonders if we are only animals capable of little more than instinct or more complex beings, the movie does give him one answer by taking the story and his destiny really out of his very large hands which also works against it by removing its interesting lead character from center stage for so long.
  • January 30, 2013
    As a child, cattle farmer's son Jacky (Schoenarts) suffers an attack which renders his testicles irreparably damaged, leading him as an adult to develop an addiction to illegal growth hormones and testorone supplements. The perpetrator of the attack was never punished as the fath... read moreer of Jacky's best friend Diederik (Perceval) refused to allow his son give evidence against the son of a local gangster. As adults, Diederik and Jacky have separately become involved in the illegal hormone trade and are reunited, bringing back uncomfortable memories and setting Jacky off on a path of vengeance.
    Inexplicably, 'Bullhead' won much praise last year on the festival circuit. With it's deathly slow pace and rather crass use of flashbacks it's a struggle to stay engaged with Roskam's film. The only aspect of the movie I found interesting was the level of animosity between French and Flemish speaking Belgians. The plot is poorly developed, relying on far too many backroom meetings for the sake of exposition. Schoenarts, seen recently in 'Rust & Bone', has been winning accolades but, frankly, I'm stumped as to his appeal. Here, as in Audiard's film, he comes across as a one-note charisma vacuum.
  • March 22, 2013
    Unwittingly filmed with one of the darkest childhood traumatic scenes I have ever seen recorded on film imaginable...the story of Jacky Vanmarsenille (Matthias Schoenaerts) a brutal cattle farmer overly pumped up on steroids hesitantly strikes up a deal with a known mafia meat t... read morerader. As he decides to make his way out of the deal a federal agent investigating the mobster is murdered sweeping Jacky up in the midst of the mess. As this is going on, a mysterious woman named Lucia Schepers (Jeanne Dandoy) from his past comes into his life to only force him to reopen the complications from the past, along with complicating the current situation in the present. Will he have a future of peace and tranquility with the mysterious Lucia or get swept in the undercurrents of his steroid addiction along with the burnt offerings of the gangster's underworld? See this to believe it!
  • February 3, 2013
    A truly brilliant performance from Matthias Schoenarts anchors this impressive film, which has a startling back story that ties into the present, making for an immersive and original film.
  • February 20, 2012
    Dark and gritty, Bullhead is a powerhouse of a drama. Coming from a viewer who has had it with the overuse of flashbacks in films, Bullhead finds a way of utilizing the technique in a much more pleasing fashion, blending the life of main character Jacky as a boy with his beefed-u... read morep (pun intended) and steroid-laden older self. The shocking revelation of Jacky's past enriches this film with a depth that saves it from being just another mob-infringed thriller gone bad. Matthias Schoenaerts lands a role he was born for and reminds of Tom Hardy early in his career.

Critic Reviews

Roger Ebert
March 1, 2012
Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

It's one of those films you have to reconstruct in your mind. Full Review

Anthony Lane
February 27, 2012
Anthony Lane, New Yorker

Some of the dialogue is overloaded, but the formidable cinematography, by Nicolas Karakatsanis, envelops us in an ever-darkening world. Full Review

Mark Jenkins
February 24, 2012
Mark Jenkins, Washington Post

Many terms applied to action movies - muscular, animalistic, testosterone-fueled - are literally true of Bullhead. Full Review

Colin Covert
February 24, 2012
Colin Covert, Minneapolis Star Tribune

Despite the unlikely setup, this Oscar-nominated thriller proves that where illegal substances are concerned, one line of trafficking is as deadly as another. Full Review

Alonso Duralde
February 23, 2012
Alonso Duralde, TheWrap

Even though the crime story winds up overwhelming the proceedings, it's the characters that make Bullhead so powerful and so unique. Full Review

Wesley Morris
February 23, 2012
Wesley Morris, Boston Globe

[It] has enough strands of story for an epic tale. But Roskam appears more interested in trying to combine genres that don't easily cohere. Full Review

Owen Gleiberman
February 22, 2012
Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly

Bullhead proves that you can make an underworld movie pumped up with pretension. Full Review

James Rocchi
February 22, 2012
James Rocchi, MSN Movies

Bullhead is a fierce slab of filmmaking served sizzling hot, but at the center it's ice-cold and bloody. Full Review

Dana Stevens
February 17, 2012
Dana Stevens, Slate

I hope we'll be getting another chance to watch Matthias Schoenaerts' work in the near future -- as huge as he is in this role, I suspect there's plenty more to see. Full Review

William Goss
February 17, 2012
William Goss,

Guided with a sure hand by writer-director Roskam, Bullhead is a tragic character study in the guise of a seedy crime drama. Full Review

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    • Jacky Vanmarsenille: You don't have any balls!

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