As a kid, Jacky learned from his father to "give nature a helping hand" by doping up the cattle on their farm with growth hormones. Now he's a beefy brooding adult (portrayed by Matthias Schoenaerts), still in the family business, and feeling cornered: Some colleagues have killed a suspicious cop, and he worries about the consequences.
Michael R. Roskam's first feature film, the Oscar-nominated Belgian drama Bullhead, sets its familiar story of corruption inside an unfamiliar milieu. Belgium is divided by language, and though we get hints of cultural conflict (the thugs are Flemish, the cop was French), the mobster element of Bullhead is largely a straightforward and rather convoluted crime drama. It is photographed in darkness or with muted lighting to convey its unremitting sense of doom.
The story's more intimate conflict goes on within Jacky, doped up with testosterone since a childhood bully smashed his testicles, and now a brooding and volatile loner. This disturbing twist, a metaphoric counterpoint to the larger drama, could stand alone as a more compelling story of machismo and self-esteem. Bullhead doesn't really add up to any more than its parts, but I can respect this emerging young director for giving it a try. In Dutch and French, with subtitles. Starts Fri., March 30. Regent Square