By: John M Jerva
With the foreboding spoken line “I’m coming for all of them,” the new revenge thriller Bull starts off with a blood-soaked ride fueled with brutality and noirish visuals and featuring a tour de force performance from leading man Neil Maskell, this is one film that strives to deliver something a little different in this subgenre. There have been many movies in the past dealing with revenge and the consequences of one’s actions but this one from BAFTA-winning writer/director Paul Andrew Williams strives to bring us something different in terms of its storytelling, execution and its brooding and visceral violence that fills the 98-minute running time.
Bull tells the story of a ruthless mob enforcer who is betrayed by his own for severely personal reasons and is left for dead by the hand of sociopathic mob boss Norm (David Hayman). the only problem is that exactly ten years later, the supposed dead Bull returns to his hometown and begins to methodically butcher everyone and anyone that was responsible for his demise. Bull doesn’t care who he has to take out as he carves a blood-soaked path throughout as he also tries to find out what has happened to his son.
From the beginning, Bull is clearly a different kind of beast as we go back and forth from the present to the past. We see through flashbacks as to what exactly happened in this betrayal and as the audience begins to see what has transpired, the plot moves forward into the present as we see Bull execute his merciless mission. The movie is not mainstream by any stretch of the imagination, and it is a hard watch with sequences of horror movie like tension punctuated with visceral and extreme violence. Even the music score beats with homages to classic horror and thriller movies of yesteryear, and it sets the tone for the kind of movie that you are watching.
The film has a strong thing going for it with the performance of Neil Maskell who plays Bull as a cross between something out of Taxi Driver and The Punisher with a dash of Paul Kersey revved up for good measure. Maskell doesn’t hold anything back in his portrayal of a man that was screwed over by the very people he worked for. Maskell plays Bull as one of the darkest anti-heroes you will ever see in motion pictures and each scene of vengeance gets more and more disturbing until the brutal final act. Bull essentially makes Frank Castle look like a priest at a Sunday school picnic and that is saying a lot.
Co-starring with Maskell is David Hayman who plays the equally ruthless mob boss Norm, and he is one that you definitely don’t want to cross. Norm is a real son of a bitch who has no redeeming value, and he will do whatever it takes to get what he wants. Hayman has a lot of fun playing the unscrupulous Norm and he plays it so hateful that viewers will want nothing more than to see him get what is coming. Norm is the worst kind of evil as he is basically a wolf in sheep’s clothing and someone you would not expect to do the things that he does. His character is ample proof that even though a person is in their older years, they can still be just as dangerous and cunning as someone half their age.
Bull is less than 90 minutes and with that, it is never dull even though there are no real action sequences to speak of. This is a thriller through and through, but it is that constant state of grimness and intensity that will propel you to finish this one out until the very end. Instead of action, we get multiple sequences of Bull doing very bad things to very bad people. It doesn’t hold anything back and I dare say that it almost has a horror movie tinge to the proceedings which is somewhat refreshing and makes it stand out from the rest of the pack.
Award winning director Paul Andrew Williams really pulls no punches here and he dares the audience to keep their eyes on the screen at certain moments. I applaud Williams for really going all in here and I can see why he has won awards in the past as he knows how to tell a story even a dark and ominous one like Bull.
I won’t give anything away but there is a twist at the end that I didn’t see coming. I actually thought something else was happening but this one is certainly open to different interpretations although I do wish this was fleshed out more. The twist definitely comes out of nowhere and I always commend filmmakers when they make me do a double take.
At the crux of it all is a story of a man who will do anything to find his son, and this adds a sympathetic layer to Maskell’s Bull. This is important as even though Bull is a bad man by nature, he still holds onto some sort of humanity. Plus, it helps that those surrounding him are worse although most of them are corrupted by Norm’s hand.
Overall, Bull is a step off the beat and path for revenge thrillers. It is a stripped down, low, key, visceral horror movie-tinged portrait of a desperate man who wants to make everyone pay for the things they did to him. It’s not going to be for everyone but at the end of the day, if violent revenge laced thrillers are your cup of tea, then Bull satisfies on all fronts. Neil Maskell’s tour de force performance is a dominating and relentless portrayal and one that should go down as a cult classic with the likes of Death Wish. If you think you’ve seen it all then check out the blunt force induced film Bull because it does its own thing with visual and dark flair.
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