A typically unhinged performance from British actor Neil Maskell is the driving force behind writer-director Paul Andrew Williams’ film Bull: a gangland revenge thriller with a relentless proclivity for stomach-churning violence. It’s an intense, oftentimes deranged venture into London’s dark, queasy criminal underworld where family is indispensable and limbs are, well, much less so.
Bull, played by Maskell, is a former gang enforcer out for bloody revenge against the men he used to work for – boss Norm (David Hayman), the father of Bull’s ex-wife Gemma (Lois Brabin-Platt) and grandfather to his beloved young son, Aiden (Henri Charles). Exactly why Bull has his sights set so intently on dealing out such merciless retribution is gradually revealed through a series of flashbacks that double as the traumatic memories of a man completely consumed by rage. These sequences, which centre on a burning caravan, provide the much-needed narrative adhesive for a lean and very mean 88 minutes that occasionally feels like an increasingly blood-soaked selection of violent vignettes.
It’s a path of death and destruction that, by way of comparison, invokes the volatile nihilism of films like Mike Hodges’ Get Carter or, more recently, Dead Man’s Shoes, Shane Meadows’ skilful and similarly bleak thriller from 2004. But Bull, despite several visually impressive moments, is a much nastier, far more emotionally slender affair: one that seems more than content with trading depth and nuance for shocks and a rather generous dose of severed fingers.
Such a choice might at first seem shrewd. Bull is, after all, a man who deals exclusively in the currency of brutality to get what he wants. However, the decision proves far less effective in serving the film’s final-act reveal – a revelation that ultimately feels simultaneously absurd and underwhelming. One might wonder if a more ambiguous ending would have yielded more impactful, intriguing results: a surprise shrouded in uncertainty that may or may not have been hidden in plain sight all along. Then again, ambivalence was never likely to be part of Bull’s arsenal.
Dir: Paul Andrew Williams (18) (88 mins)
Out now in cinemas
words GEORGE NASH
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