SXSW 2020 FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW! There is this fragility to life. I’m not referring to life and death, but the small, yet seemingly unimportant, choices in life we make that sets us on the right path or the wrong one in life. How a single decision can make life easy for ourselves or overwhelmingly complicated. Annie Silverstein’s Bull is a story of that fragility.
Kris (Amber Havard) is a 14-year-old teen living with her younger sister at their grandmother’s house, while their mother finishes out her prison sentence. Kris is just moments away from following her mother’s footsteps to time in juvie. But Kris loves her and they speak often of the opportunities they will have once she’s out.
Living next door to Kris’ grandmother is Abe (Rob Morgan), an aging bull rider, who spends most of his nights as a rodeo clown. Abe has a mean-streak and a hard edge screaming at Kris, who’s dog broke into his chicken coop and killed a few of his chickens.
“Kris is just moments away from following her mother’s footsteps to time in juvie…”
One night, while Abe is away, Kris breaks into his home, takes a picture of his liquor cabinet, and sends it to her friends at school. Soon everyone’s at Abe’s house for a makeshift kegger, drinking all his booze, and making a mess only teens know how to make.
The next morning Abe returns and calls the cops on Kris. As a condition for her release, Kris must clean up Abe’s home and fix his chicken coop. Kris and Abe soon form an unlikely friendship, and Abe agrees to take Kris to the rodeo that night and watch him at work during the bull riding events.
Meanwhile, Abe has his demons too. The years of physical abuse he suffered while bull riding has caught up with him along with his age. In a recent event, he was insured by a bull and is not medically cleared to work at the rodeo. In fact, he goes out of his way to hide his injuries to no avail. He passes his time away with alcohol and working for an amateur rodeo with lax medical standards.
“…shot beautifully in a slice-of-life style of storytelling. Void of theatrics. No exposition. No grand speeches…”
As the bond grows between Kris and Abe, Kris finds her passion for bull riding, and Abe agrees to train her. It appears that working together, Kris and Abe find hope in their go-nowhere lives. Kris hopes to make a living in the rodeo. But like any good drama, life manages to put the brakes on a dream.
Written by Annie Silverstein and Johnny McAllister, Bull is a heartbreaking story of people trying to find purpose and meaning in their lives. For Abe, his search takes place late in life after receiving bad news, and Kris still has her whole life ahead of her, but her life starts crumbling around her from events that are out of her control and she’ll do anything to get out of that town.
I like that Bull is shot beautifully in a slice-of-life style of storytelling. Void of theatrics. No exposition. No grand speeches about life (although there is a little bit of wisdom derived from the sport of bull riding itself). Their lives are portrayed as real, like a wind-up toy and you simply follow where it goes. Conflict never feels contrived, and Havard and Morgan give wonderfully subtle authentic performances. Your right there as Kris and Abe as the two make tough choices to get them to the next stage of their lives. It’s a subtle tale about the bonds of friendship in times of hopelessness.
Bull screened at the 2020 SXSW Film Festival.
Bull (2019) Directed by Annie Silverstein. Written by Annie Silverstein, Johnny McAllister. Starring Amber Havard, Rob Morgan.
7 out of 10 stars