In synopsis Michaël R. Roskam’s feature debut is just another gangster tangle of black market drug-peddling, Coen-esque deadpan and unrequited love. Albeit set in a cattle farm. In Belgium. But anchoring all this drifting convention is a masterful, creeping character study. Every frame is stained with the swollen silhouette of cattle farmer Jacky (Schoenaerts), who has become snagged on a criminal cow-doping racket. Like Brando’s Stanley Kowalski, or Muni’s Scarface, Jacky wields his too-powerful body with haplessness, juiced on a heady cocktail of chemicals and vile circumstance.
An agonising flashback to his childhood unveils the pivot upon which this tragic carousel ride must careen to its conclusion. Between Nicolas Karakatsanis’s agile camerawork and an uncanny deployment of silence, Roskam teases open bare, fluid spaces in which Schoenarts’ intense performance can really writhe. It’s refreshing that such a dark and viciously cynical beast earned an Oscar nod last year; it’s just frustrating that it might have prowled more potently if unleashed from a plot which feels somewhat arbitrary. [Kirsty Leckie-Palmer]