×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Cannes Film Review: ‘Bull’

Award-winning director Annie Silverstein's feature debut follows an at-risk 14-year-old who develops an interest in bull riding.

Director:
Annie Silverstein
With:
Rob Morgan, Amber Havard, Yolonda Ross

Running time: 108 MIN.

Annie Silverstein’s rough-edged debut, “Bull,” begins the same way her short film “Skunk” did, with an unruly dog chewing on the carcass of the creature it has caught. A teenage girl runs outside to deal with the situation — a half-wild child wrestling to control a rebellious animal — and in the hours and days that follow, Silverstein observes the small but critical choices the impulsive young woman makes to distinguish herself from the distracted parents, adults, and would-be role models in her life.

But if “Skunk” — a 15-minute treasure that won the Cinéfondation short film prize at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival and automatically earned Silverstein’s follow-up a spot in official selection this year — promised big things to come, then the director’s five-years-later “Bull” is a disappointment, coming off too much like its predecessor, rather than a different kind of animal. Both are shaky, faux-thentic portraits of South Texas teens who don’t have a lot of options, and who could at any moment make a decision that inadvertently derails their future.

Those stakes are heightened here, since “Bull’s” 14-year-old protagonist, Kris (Amber Havard), has no father to speak of and a mom (Sara Albright) behind bars; she hangs out with delinquents and lives in an impoverished community — all factors that put this particular youth “at risk.” But the story feels lean, and most of the cast, while convincing, don’t leap off the screen the way the ensemble in an Andrea Arnold movie does (the British director’s “Wasp” and “Fish Tank” are almost certainly among Silverstein’s top influences).

You don’t have to be a social scientist to know that the chances that Kris could wind up in juvie are significantly higher than they might be for a rich kid whose grass is mowed, bills are paid, and parents are still together. Maybe that’s one reason movies tend to shy away from characters like Kris, someone who doesn’t yet know what she wants from life, and therefore wouldn’t know where to turn to find a mentor or take the first step. But that’s already something that sets “Bull” apart, showing sensitivity to someone who doesn’t even believe in herself. Yet.

What’s clear when we meet Kris — who’s allowed to behave in ways that she doesn’t seem to understand, as adolescents often do — is that she’s pushing back on what little authority her grandmother-guardian (Keeli Wheeler) provides. She picks fights in school, sneaks down to the river to flirt with the boys, and breaks into the house of an African-American neighbor to host an impromptu party with a bunch of kids from her class. It’s this last stunt that lands her in trouble: The owner comes home, the cops are called, and Kris is ready to accept the first strike in her criminal record when she catches a break.

Abe (Rob Morgan), whose house these n-word-using white kids vandalized (and whose chicken Kris found in her dog’s mouth during that first scene), decides not to press charges, so long as Kris agrees to help him with errands. Abe was once a Professional Bull Rider, but these days he mostly works as a rodeo protection athlete, getting agitated bulls to chase him so the cowboys can scramble to safety once they’ve been bucked. It’s dangerous work, and Abe’s got the chronic pains and gnarly scars to prove it. As the movie advances, Silverstein carves out more and more time for him, to the degree that “Bull” ultimately belongs as much to him as to Kris.

As the title suggests, Kris takes an interest in this line of work, tagging along to watch Abe in action at black rodeo events after he gets fired from the PBR — just one more injustice in a movie that depicts, with zero indignation but no shortage of empathy, how it feels to be on the disadvantaged end of how opportunity is apportioned in America. That’s another way “Bull” diverges from other coming-of-age stories: If this were a studio movie, or an inspirational documentary, the filmmaker would surely focus on the notion that Kris is a natural talent. But she’s not. She’s merely curious, and that’s the first step in steering her away from the less wholesome temptations that surround her — like selling Oxycodone pills for a Lukas Haas-looking sketchball (Steven Boyd).

These two adults — the painkiller-dependent ex-rodeo neighbor and the opiate-dealing creep who used to date Kris’ mother — represent two paths her future could take. What “Bull” won’t do is whisk audiences away into some dream of this young woman becoming a rodeo star. It’s simply not that kind of movie — and that’s too bad, because a bit of formula would have boosted this relatively flat drama, which can otherwise feel stagnant for long stretches.

Silverstein and her husband-co-writer-research partner Johnny McAllister are committed to capturing “reality” (that most elusive of goals), working predominantly with nonprofessional actors and shooting in a style that looks as if someone were tickling the camera operator the whole time. If you can get past that unnecessarily turbulent handheld style (too self-conscious to be subliminal), then you’ll likely find yourself connecting with the film’s “rurban” milieu — a unique place where the tetanus-shot feel of rusty fences and chipped paint evokes the texture of seldom-filmed farm-like country neighborhoods where residents raise animals or crops in their backyards.

That’s likely worth the price of admission for some, especially in a place like Cannes, where international audiences are privileged a glimpse into a side of American life that even cosmopolitan Americans don’t know. But the film doesn’t spark the way other Southern stories do — be it the more amplified world of “Beasts of the Southern Wild” or Micah Magee’s like-minded “Petting Zoo,” which delivers the nuances Silverstein never quite achieves here. Too often, “Bull” leaves us on the outside of what Kris is going through, peering through windows that reflect what we already know about her experience.

Popular on Variety

Cannes Film Review: 'Bull'

Reviewed at Club 13, Paris, May 11, 2019. (In Cannes Film Festival — Un Certain Regard.) Running time: 108 MIN.

Production: A Bert Marcus Film presentation, with Invisible Pictures, in association with 30West. Producers: Monique Walton, Bert Marcus, Heather Rae, Ryan Zacarias, Audrey Rosenberg. Executive producers: Cassandra Thornton, Johnny McAllister, Jess Jacobs, Sandhya Shardanand. Co-executive producers: Nion McEvoy, Katy Drake Bettner. Co-producer: Jerri Moore.

Crew: Director: Annie Silverstein. Screenplay: Annie Silverstein, Johnny McAllister. Camera (color, widescreen): Shabier Kirchner. Editors: Miguel Schverdfinger, Todd Holmes. Music: William Ryan Fritch.

With: Rob Morgan, Amber Havard, Yolonda Ross, Keira Bennett, Reign, Keeli Wheeler, Sara Albright, Reece McClure.

More Film

  • Samara Weaving

    'G.I. Joe' Spinoff 'Snake Eyes' Adds 'Ready or Not's' Samara Weaving

    Samara Weaving will join Henry Golding in the “G.I. Joe” spinoff, “Snake Eyes.” Haruka Abe, Ursula Corbero, Iko Uwais and Andrew Koji have also boarded the Paramount, Skydance and AllSpark movie. “The Captain” director Robert Schwentke is helming and Brian Goldner is producing. Evan Spiliotopoulos, who wrote “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Huntsman: Winter’s [...]

  • The Irishman

    'The Irishman' to Screen at Hollywood's Egyptian Theatre

    Netflix’s “The Irishman,” directed by Martin Scorsese, will screen at American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood  for two weeks starting Nov. 1. The screenings, announced Monday, are part of the limited theatrical run for the 209-minute crime drama, which premiered at the New York Film Festival on Sept. 27. Netflix will begin streaming “The Irishman” on [...]

  • Critics' Choice Documentary Awards Nominations 2019

    'Biggest Little Farm' Nabs Seven Critics' Choice Documentary Awards Nominations

    “The Biggest Little Farm” leads nominees for the fourth annual Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards, with seven bids, followed by “Apollo 11” and “They Shall Not Grow Old.” “One Child Nation” received five nominations. The winners will be presented their awards at a gala, hosted by Property Brothers’ Jonathan Scott, on Nov. 10 at BRIC in [...]

  • Margot Robbie, Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron.

    Charlize Theron Could Win Second Oscar for Playing Megyn Kelly in 'Bombshell'

    Charlize Theron walked on stage before a screening of “Bombshell” at West Hollywood’s Pacific Design Center on Sunday night and announced to the crowd, “I’m about to s— myself.” The Oscar winner had good reason to be nervous. The screening of the Jay Roach-directed drama about the fall of Fox News boss Roger Ailes was [...]

  • Abominable Animated Movie

    Vietnam Pulls DreamWorks' 'Abominable' Over Contested Territorial Claims

    Vietnam has banned DreamWorks Animation’s new co-produced feature “Abominable” from its cinemas due to a scene involving a map that depicts China’s contested territorial claims in the South China Sea. The move comes as U.S. entertainment firms such as the NBA, Disney and gaming firm Activision Blizzard are under intense fire from U.S. fans, activists [...]

  • The Captain

    China Box Office: 'The Captain' Flies to $340 Million After Two Weeks of Release

    Patriotic thriller “The Captain” held on to the top spot at the Chinese box office for the second weekend, again leading from propaganda omnibus “My People, My Country.” “The Captain,” also known as “The Chinese Pilot” earned $34.9 million according to consultancy Artisan Gateway, for a two-week cumulative of $343 million. The cumulative for “People,” [...]

  • CGV movie theatre Seoul South KoreaCGV

    Korean Law to Limit Film Releasing Monopolies

    The Korean government is to make it illegal to show a single film on more than 50% of screens nationwide. The move is intended to prevent “screen monopolies by blockbuster films” and to “address unfair competition practices in the film industry.” The Ministry of Culture announced on Monday that it will revise the existing Promotion [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content