Violence begets violence, to take a very New Testament view of things. It’s true in the real world, and it’s certainly true in movies, and nowhere is that more perfectly illustrated than in Paul Andrew Williams’ harsh thriller Bull. Or more accurately, violence begets violence begets violence begets violence.
Bull is a very violent film. The title character (Neil Maskell) is an extremely psychotic heavy for crime boss Norm (David Hayman) and is also married to his daughter Gemma (Lois Brabin-Platt). Together they have a son, Aiden, but things go bad when she decides to ditch Bull for another of Norm’s men, and get worse when Bull says he wants custody of Aiden. Despite being a heroin addict, what Gemma wants, Gemma gets, which means Norm and co getting rid of Bull, or so they think. The film begins with the story picking up a decade later, with Bull showing up to begin his rampage of vengeance, intending to fulfil his dying promise that he would kill every one of them.
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Bull is very much set up like a 1960s/70s revenge thriller, Point Blank being a good example of someone coming back to get their revenge after being presumed dead. It has somewhat of a grindhouse spirit, and honestly, it would be easy to imagine someone like Charles Bronson in the title role. Maskell is fantastic as Bull and gives a quite terrifying performance; someone says there’s something wrong with him, and his response is “You have no idea.” What’s perhaps scariest is the normality he brings to much of the film – reminiscent of the difference between Brian Cox’s Hannibal Lecktor and Anthony Hopkins’ Lecter. He’s very casual and something a long way from the madmen audiences have been conditioned to expect in these genre pictures. Not that he doesn’t approach that line too, thankfully he doesn’t cross it and you can see the insanity in his eyes.
The other performances are excellent too, including Hayman’s Norm. Like Maskell, Hayman is also scary in a prosaic way, perhaps similar to Alan Ford’s Bricktop in Snatch, and it helps bring an extra sense of depth when he does unspeakable things. Mundanity is again the order of the day when it comes to locations, although there is a cracking scene set at a funfair involving a particularly unpleasant time on the waltzers. Vanessa Whyte and Ben Chads’ cinematography has a wonderfully dreary patina, matched by Raffertie’s droning musical score.
It’s a hell of a tense film, and even though you might have a rough idea of what’s going to happen, you’re still entranced and wound up. The events of Bull’s initial disappearance are shown concurrently with his revenge rampage, making for an even more interesting narrative. There’s also the matter of Bull’s journey from a moral standpoint, where his primary concern is Aiden. Who wouldn’t go through hell and back for their children? Well, things may be different if it involved multiple stabbings and dismemberment, but it’s the idea that what happened to Bull outweighs what he does.
It runs a lean 88 minutes so you kind of get swept up in the whole thing, which tells you what an excellent film it is. The only problem is the last five minutes or so where it nearly all caves in on itself. It tries something that could be interesting but tonally doesn’t gel with what’s come before, and almost feels like a cheat to explain away Bull’s murderous exploits. It’s not a dealbreaker, but it did have me shaking my head.
Second Sight’s Blu-ray looks and sounds great as you’d imagine for a brand new film, and has some decent extras including a commentary with Williams and Maskell and interviews with Williams and two of the film’s producers. But really you’re buying for the film, which is a cut above most recent UK crime films and a nice throwback to the days of films like Get Carter.
Bull is out now on Blu-ray from Second Sight Films.