Review by Sean Boelman
Co-written and directed by Annie Silverstein, Bull is a new drama dealing with the tough but important topic of addiction. However, despite an intriguing premise, the film gets too caught up in its conventional coming-of-age subplot to be as thoughtful as Silverstein obviously hopes it to be.
The movie follows a troubled teen girl as she befriends and learns from her neighbor, an aging bullfighter with an interesting past and issues of his own. The subgenre of films about people trying to find redemption by taming animals has experienced a sort of resurgence in recent years, but by trying to spin it into a coming-of-age movie, Silverstein loses the power of that central metaphor.
The script is at its strongest when it is exploring the human impact of the opioid crisis, but this makes up a disappointingly small part of the film’s conflict. There are some really powerful scenes that come in the second act, but these narrative threads are never resolved in a way that is compelling.
Silverstein also chooses to focus on the teenage girl as the protagonist when her neighbor is undeniably the more compelling character. Unfortunately, even though her struggles are sympathetic, her arc has been committed to the screen many times before. On the other hand, Silverstein’s approach to the bullfighter character is much more nuanced and effective, but not fully utilized.
Additionally, the pacing of the movie as a whole feels extremely uneven. The first act is very slow and it takes a while to get invested in the world of the film. Then, as the conflict begins to pick up, the movie continues to gain steam until it eventually starts to feel rushed in the final third. With a story like this, it’s much better for the script to be more of a consistent slow burn, and that is missing here.
Rob Morgan gives a phenomenal performance and is one of the main reasons why the movie is able to stay afloat. Since the film feels contrived as a whole, he is the main source of earnesty. In the context of a better movie, he would likely be up for consideration for his subtly soulful portrayal of the cowboy past his prime, but alas, Morgan will have to wait for greener pastures for that.
Silverstein’s eye is also quite strong. It’s obvious that she started as a documentary director, as the film as a whole has a very gritty and realistic feel to it. It would almost be immersive if the script weren’t so weighed down by convention and formula that it fails to be anything other than a passable melodrama.
There are definitely some good things going on in Annie Silverstein’s Bull, but they sadly don’t all come together, resulting in a watch that isn’t entirely satisfying. The talent on display here is admirable, although that doesn’t necessarily make it worth your time.
Bull hits VOD on May 1.