Yuri Borisov, Stasya Miloslavskaya, Afina Kondrashova, Alexander Samson, Igor Savochkin
FilmInk rates movies out of $20 — the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth
Director Boris Akopov manages to craft something almost picturesque out of the misery, and there’s no denying The Bull is cracking to look at.
Set against the backdrop of ‘90s Russia, The Bull is a bleak tale of redemption. At its centre is Anton AKA The Bull (Yuri Borisov), the leader of a shifty pack of skinhead thugs. When we first meet him, Anton and his mob are getting ready to throw their feet and fists into a rival gang. Interrupted by Anton’s much younger sister, the fearless leader fires off a gun to scare everyone away.
The unloading of an illegal firearm brings Anton to the attention of not only the police but a local kingpin who sees a good prospect in the one they call The Bull. The kingpin pulls a few strings and Anton is soon back on the streets. The only catch – because there’s always a catch – is that Anton has to do a couple of jobs for him. Before you can say amphetamines, the young lads are riding high on a wave of antisocial behaviour. That this euphoria can’t last forever is plain. It’s not a question of if, but when.
As the gruff Bull, Borisov portrays a sympathetic man who balances his ‘work’ and social life by keeping them as separate as possible. Anton might be able to floor someone by merely looking at them, but he is also fiercely loyal to his mother and siblings. He knows that his way of living is not for everyone and admits freely that he wants his family to be better than him.
Anton is not the only hopeless character on show. There’s also Tania (Stasya Miloslavskaya), a beautician who has captured the heart of Anton’s brother, Mischa (Egor Kenzhametov). Tania is intelligent, attractive and has latched herself onto a yuppie American, despite being able to speak very little English, in the hopes that she’ll be taken away from the rot that’s set in around her. Considering her foreign suitor and Mischa’s affections, The Bull almost has you rooting for her to get with Anton.
Some will find this hopeful film about hopelessness challenging to watch. It offers up no easy resolutions and at times feels incredibly stifling. Yet, Director Boris Akopov manages to craft something almost picturesque out of the misery, and there’s no denying The Bull is cracking to look at. His cast is strong and there’s not a bad performance on display. The issues come after popping the hood on the narrative and realising there’s not much here that hasn’t been done before.
The hoodlum who does good; the misshapen antagonist; montages set against up-tempo pop. It’s all part and parcel of the genre and we’ve seen it all before. Even Akopov’s characters – supposedly based on real people – don’t feel like they live off-screen; they’re caricatures of the misspent youth that very likely populated the streets of Moscow at that time. That may sound like a dismissal of the film, but it’s more of an acknowledgement that strips The Bull of its baubles.
With all that said though, The Bull’s rawness makes for an engaging film and because it’s the feature-length debut of Akopov, it acts a taster of what we can expect from the promising filmmaker in the future.