"“In what is effectively a character study amidst modern film noir surroundings, Matthias Schoenaerts is simply stunning...”"

As the Academy Awards draw closer, it seems to have provoked a guessing game amongst filmgoers, whereby we all fruitlessly discuss our opinions on who may win what come the end of February. However in the meantime, some outstanding features are quietly being released, and it's one of last year’s Best Foreign Language Film nominees Bullhead that is now set for British distribution. It's taken us an entire year to discover whether or not the nomination was deserved, and now we can safely say that it certainly was.

Director Michaël R. Roskam sets his feature in Belgium, as Rust and Bone star Matthias Schoenaerts plays Jacky Vanmarsenille, who following a horrific incident at the hands of a violent bully when just a child, spends the rest of his days injecting himself with hormone inducing pills and steroids. Although lonely and dejected, given his muscular physique and intimidating presence, Jacky is generally feared amongst locals - which he uses to his advantage when trying to swing deals for his cattle farm. However when persuaded to go into business with a shady beef trader, he inadvertently gets himself caught up in a murder investigation, while his troubled past comes back to haunt him following the introduction of undercover cop Diederik (Jeroen Perceval), his long-lost childhood companion.

Within minutes of Bullhead we see Jacky aggressively persuade a farmer into a deal, before seeing him completely naked and vulnerable in his bathroom – an indictment into how this film may play out, as instantly we form an intimate relationship with our lead. Whilst aware of the fact he is feared by others, this exposure allows the audience to feel close to and understand someone that is otherwise viewed upon as a mere bully by those around him. Roskam plays with our perceptions, as it takes a while for us to truly come around to Jacky as initially he seems daunting and violent, but eventually we get to know him and see him for who he really is. It's important that we have to go through this transition ourselves to appreciate how and why others perceive him as they do.

In what is effectively a character study amidst modern film noir surroundings, Schoenaerts is simply stunning. He fully embodies the role, psychically adjusting himself to really encapsulate this character. Here is an actor who can achieve great, great things. He even beefed up for the role, too.

The one issue with Bullhead is that it does take a while to get into, as the first third is intricate and too many characters are introduced, all seemingly with different agendas. It isn't really until we see the flashbacks of Jacky's childhood when we can begin to make sense of the story, and piece it all together. There is a slow-burning atmosphere to this title, but it doesn't avoid the melodrama that ensues, as the placid backdrop of a rural Belgian town works well as a host to the drama surrounding the murder, the gangsters and the drugs.

Bullhead is a thought-provoking piece and one that tells a strong story. It is remarkably well-acted and given it's presented in a gritty, visceral manner, allows for us to get close to this story and the characters within it. It's enough to put you off beef as well – perhaps Tesco’s knew something we didn’t?