Matthias Schoenaerts stars as Jacky, who was emasculated as a young boy by a maniacal older kid and has become a hulking abuser of steroids, muscle-bound and hot-tempered and mistrusted by business associates and by the women he can never have. He’s a cattleman involved in the ugly business of doping beef cattle, and when the police crackdown on his nasty little industry gets bloody, Jacky is inadvertently (and innocently) fingered in a homicide.
That misidentification is, in part, triggered by a police informant (Jeroen Perceval) who was young Jacky’s pal, and it coincides with Jacky’s reconnection with a girl (Jeanne Dandoy) who was the object of his youthful affections. Given how awful Jacky’s past was, the reappearance of so much of it in the present simply can’t be good news.
The film opens with Jacky’s recitation of a doomy worldview, and writer-director Michael R. Roskam does little to suggest that this nihilism is misplaced. Characters in Bullhead act out of stupidity, greed, anger and vanity; their world is filmed in a washed-out haze; the miserable fortune that devastated young Jacky haunts him ceaselessly still. The film’s final notes hint at a state of grace, perhaps, or at least of release. But there’s a tautological determinism throughout that suggest otherwise.