Bull (Amazon Prime Video)
Starring Rob Morgan, Amber Havard, Yolonda Ross, Steven Boyd
Directed by Annie Silverstein
Rating: *** ½
The untold pleasure of watching a film as luminously layered as Bull is not only in what it gives upfront, but what lies beneath. While the two central performances of the Black bull-rider Abe and the white teen drifter Chris are no doubt exceptional, there is an Irish actor Steven Boyd who grabs our attention from the fringes.
Boyd plays middleaged Billy, a friend of 15-year Chris’s incarcerated mother who exudes a distant menace in his attitude as he introduces himself to her as the guy who hung around with her mom while she ran around as a child. From there Billy becomes Chris’ bootleg benefactor introducing her to a world of dangerous drug dealing and, we suspect, sexual favours for money. All of this is never spelt out. We see Billy, his son and Chris hanging out casually. Billy is a threat without making it obvious.
There is nothing obvious to this film about a very obvious bond that grows between two lonely anchorless souls who drift towards each other willy-nilly. One is Black battered and burnt out. The other doesn’t even know how or where to start her life. To their credit, Rob Morgan and newcomer Amber Harvard do not play their characters for sympathy.
There is something immeasurably tragic in the world that these two moorless souls occupy. They are both fringe people, and not because one is Black and the other is potential white trash. Abe and Chris’s bonding is never milked for sentimentality. The two unlikely souls never collide in any dramatic way.. Nor do their individual darknesses merge to create light. Nothing so dramatic happens.
This a slow-burning drama with the main characters coming out of their self-imposed shells in an unrushed movement of de-frozen emotions. Simply watching Rob Morgan and Amber Harvard unravel the complexities of their characters is a life-enriching experience. Both the actors surround their characters with a frightening loneliness. Both stare at a life of hopelessness without self-pity.
Morgan’s Abe and Harvard’s Chris don’t need to tell us about their suffering. Nor does the background music hammer in their pain. It’s all there, without saying. We can feel the shroud of grief that envelopes the protagonists. First-time director Annie Silverstein pulls no punches.
Bull is inured in pain and suffering. It delves deep into the Texan wilderness to show the close link between existing at the fringes and learning to survive. It is a beautifully unvarnished piece of work, that shines with an inner glow.