Friday, April 01, 2022

Neil Maskell is Bull

Everyone just calls him “Bull,” including his ex-wife—very ex. He is not the sort of gang enforcer you want to leave for dead. His mobster father-in-law was pretty certain he finished the job. Yet, somehow, he has come back, truly with a vengeance, in Paul Andrew Williams’ gritty payback thriller Bull, which opens today in New York and releases on VOD.

Norm would grudgingly admit his heroin-addicted daughter Gemma is not a great mother, but he still loyally takes her side in what you could call a custody battle from Hell. He assumed Bull went to a fiery death, but then he suddenly turns up ten years later. Not surprisingly, Bull wants to find Gemma and his son Aiden, so he will work his way through the bodies of Norm’s unfortunate associates to get to them.

Neil Maskell has played a number of memorable British working-class thugs and anti-heroes, but Bull could be his most vicious lowlife protagonist to date—but we cannot help rooting for him, because what choice is there?

Bull is a lot like Hyena (also co-starring Maskell), but it is more accessible and emotionally engaging. Yet, it also shares a kinship with Ben Wheatley’s Kill List (which, of course, starred Maskell too), in that both films ostensibly follow the dirty business of some violent workaday criminals, but there is an unsettling feeling of something rather sinister going on in the background. Viewers should not ignore their intuition, but it would be spoilery to confirm how so here.

Regardless, Maskell is terrific as Bull. He is not exactly a stereotypical action star, but you wouldn’t want his characters knocking on your door late at night. Similarly, David Hayman is chillingly ruthless as Norm. These two antagonists are pretty evenly matched and all kinds of steely and grizzled. Norm has a few colorful henchmen, but probably the most interesting is Beardy (nicely played by David Nellist), who maybe has some remorse for what he thought they did to Bull.

Even though some of the flashbacks can be a little confusing, Williams keeps the tension ratcheted up and maintains a sense of general unease. Even if you guess the big secret, the scene of its revelation is really quite masterful. Cult movie fans should be happy to see him return to his grimy genre roots after the cutesy oldster sentimentality of
Unfinished Song. Highly recommended for Wheatley fans (honestly, it could pass for one of his films), Bull opens today (4/1) in New York, at the Cinema Village.