Review: BULL, Revenge From Across the Pond
Revenge movies can come in two flavors: a balls-out, action-filled romp, or a low-key slow-burn with quick flashes of violence. Bull, from director Paul Andrew Williams, is closer to the latter, a British take on a formula that is miles removed from the expected Guy Ritchie school of 'London Underground' crime films, of which we've had a lot.
Neil Maskell stars as the titular character, a tough, no-nonsense and tight-lipped badass who returns to his hometown after a 10-year absence to get bloody revenge on his father-in-law, and local kingpin, Noel (David Hayman). Armed with nothing more than a large knife, Bull carves a bloody path through assorted underlings and other bottom feeders, hoping for redemption from past misdeeds. It's a grim, downbeat ride, with a similar vibe to Jeremy Saulnier's blue-collar 'working class' thrillers, except it's across the pond.
Looking like a side player in a Guy Ritchie joint -- he even has his own colorful nickname -- the portly, short and even cuddly Maskell is not the first person you think of to play an ass-kicking thug, but that's precisely what makes him such a great fit for the role. He's an unassuming, quiet presence until he's let off the leash, and the results are appropriately quick and brutal.
All the ingredients are there for a grimy, gritty romp, but Bull's unconventional structure somewhat limits the fun; flashbacks are scattered throughout an already short running time and the specifics of Bull's mission are somewhat muddled (the thick accents don't help, either). However, it's easy to catch the gist: Bull is not a nice man, he was wronged in the worst way possible, and he's butting heads with his father-in-law, Norm (David Hayman, ice cold under a grandfatherly visage); the back and forth between both men is enough to keep your interest.
Every revenge movie is about catharsis; the inevitable, adrenaline-fueled moment when bad people get what's coming to them. The killing spree in Bull is no different, except hampered by its stop-and-start narrative. While never reaching giddy, blood-soaked heights, there are a couple of quick, memorable moments involving an amusement park, a severed arm, and a stovetop.
In many ways, Bull comes off as just another well-made, though familiar, revenge tale of the grim and downbeat variety; we've certainly seen plenty of those. But without giving anything away, a late-inning twist turns the entire film on its head and makes you reevaluate what came before.
More than just a simple story of payback, it suddenly becomes a melancholy meditation on redemption and atoning for one's sins, with a more metaphysical bent. That's enough to separate this modest yet intriguing crime flick from others of its ilk.
The film is now playing in select movie theaters (as of Friday, April 1) and will be available to watch and On Demand and Digital on April 5, 2022.