Movie reviews: ‘Bullhead’ and ‘Kill List’ at Texas Theatre

The Texas Theatre continues to build its reputation as Dallas’ source for esoteric and adventurous cinema this coming weekend, when it releases a pair of intriguing, intense, and enthralling European films. One is the Belgian contender for the Best Foreign Language Film award at this year’s Oscars; the other is an unsettling British horror-thriller/crime drama hybrid. Both will run February 24 through March 1 exclusively at the Texas Theatre:

An ambitious debut by director Michael R. Roskam, the Belgian crime drama Bullhead is sometimes clumsy, often brutal, and always gripping. It has been nominated for this year’s Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, but is in the unenviable position of competing against the superb A Separation.

The movie begins as a standard mob movie and quickly morphs into something more emotion-driven. Matthias Schoenaerts plays JackyVanmarsenille, a muscular thirtysomething loner who helps run the family cattle business, which is heavily involved in the Belgian “hormone-mafia”, relying on steady supplies of illegal growth hormones to boost business. They draw police scrutiny after getting involved with a shady vet named DeKuyper (Sam Louwyck), who arranges the murder of a police officer.

Jacky is opposed to the arrangement, especially when he learns that DeKuyper’s right-hand man is Diederik (Jeroen Perceval), Jacky’s childhood friend until a shocking incident maimed Jacky (leaving him reliant on large doses of testosterone) and drove a wedge between their families. The return of Diederick, as well as that of childhood crush Lucia (Jeanne Dandoy), send Jacky into an emotional tailspin.

Roskam at times has have trouble balancing Bullhead‘s crime-story narrative with its portrait of Jacky’s fractured psyche, often shifting gracelessly between the two. Nevertheless, Schoenaerts succeeds in delivering a nuanced portrayal of a tragic character, eliciting a small degree of sympathy for a very unlikeable man. His performance holds the film together, balancing Jaky’s vulnerability with the character’s capacity for hair-trigger violence.

 

Part thriller, part fever dream, British director Ben Wheatley’s genre mash-up Kill List is shocking, unsettling, forceful work that plays like the missing link between The Wicker Man and Angel Heart by way of Get Carter.

Jay (Neil Maskell) is a suburban British husband and father who’s been unemployed for several months. Since then, he’s been bickering with his Swedish wife Shel (MyAnna Buring) over their dwindling funds and his inability – and perhap unwillingness to find work. The tension between them is so taut that they erupt into an explosive argument during a dinner party with Jay’s best friend and partner Gal (Michael Smiley) and his girlfriend Fiona (Emma Fryer).

At first blush, it seems to be playing out like another indie drama about a fractured marriage against the backdrop of a fractured economy and so on and so forth; however, Kill List quickly takes a sharp left turn into considerably darker territory.

It turns out Jay and Gal are ex-soldiers turned hired killers, and they’ve been licking their wounds after a botched job in Kiev. Gal convinces Jay to take another job from an odd — and frankly a little creepy– consortium of old gentlemen. They’re given a list of three people to kill, a relatively simple assignment that takes increasingly bizarre turns as it progreeses, pushing Jay’s already frayed sanity to the breaking point.

To say more would be unfair to first-time viewers. Let’s just say the mid-course genre shifting continues in the third act, a shift in gear that is startling until one looks back and sees that hints were present all along. Wheatley maintains a sense of dread and unease throughout, channeling his inner Nicholas Roeg as he shifts gears with ease from domestic disharmony to sudden bursts of shocking violence to flat-out madness


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