Writer and Director: Paul Andrew Williams
Baddies never learn; their need for showmanship and an elaborate death for their victims always backfires when they could have simply and efficiently done the deed when they had the protagonist in their grasp. Paul Andrew Williams’ graphic gangster story, Bull is a revenge thriller about a group of bad men who turn on each other and pay the price. Screening as part of the London Film Festival, Bull is a violent tale of a father trying to find his son.
When series of gangland deaths occur, crime boss Norm starts to worry about his family’s safety as a threat from 10 years earlier rings in his ears. As the psychotic Bull makes his presence felt, attacking his enemies one-by-one, the net starts to close as he searches for the son he was forced to leave and the people who took everything from him.
Williams’ film takes a fairly standard story of male violence and gives it a bit of a twist as an avenging angel comes to wreak havoc. But Bull himself if no angel and as the story spools back to what really happened a decade before, running in parallel with Bull’s modern-day quest to target those who made him suffer, Williams presents a scenario in which there are no heroes, only villains receiving some kind of moral pay-back for their plentiful bad deeds.
The merciless of Williams’ film is distilled in the character of Bull who has few redeeming features except for a cliched love for the son he wants to protect. The bad guy with a heart we’ve seen before and Bull is never redeemed as a character through this, instead his purpose is rather one-note, a treadmill of cartoonish violence that predated his run-in with Norm, a man with no conscience using knives and occasionally shot guns to inflict pain.
There are, by extension, limited roles for women in these films so Lois Brabin-Platt as Bull’s ex-wife Gemma gets only a few moments of scream time for her heroin-addicted mother, while Tamsin Outhwaite’s sister Sharon initially looks like she’ll have a much bigger role in driving events but is all but forgotten about later in the film – a missed opportunity to explore the effect and contribution to crime families across genders.
Neil Maskell gives his lead a moral blankness who never flinches at the brutal methods he employs and seems entirely at ease with his purpose, first as a fixer, and later with his quest, equally happy to bestow occasional mercy while killing indiscriminately. There’s good support from David Hayman as the fierce crime boss who perhaps should have dealt with his over eager employee and bit sooner and more thoroughly!
The use of the fairground as a place of menace and disorientation is well managed, lifting the low budget thriller while the management of the flashbacks and present-day narratives work well together. In a way the violence itself seems so silly that it may have been better for Williams to imply more than he shows, yet, despite an ending that feels too convenient, Bull builds its revenge theme well.
Bull is screening at the London Film Festival.