After his father committed suicide, Phred (Joe O’Donnel) left his town, and his life, behind. That life included Katherine (Naomi Strauss), a woman he has obsessed about since. Upon making his return after three years away, Phred assumes the duties of the local ice cream man, selling his frozen wares by day and spending the rest of his time hanging out with his father’s old friend Dante (Gregorio Parker), going to the bar or awkwardly trying to find his way back into Katherine’s life. Oh, and smoking. Lots of smoking.
The Hungry Bull is really as much about the redemption of Phred as it is about the rebirth of Dante. The latter has never been the same since his wife died, and his daily habits of drinking and smoking gel with the seemingly aimless Phred, but each winds up being the conduit for the other to heal and grow.
It’s a somber film, filled with touches of humor, but predominantly feels true to life. Maybe that’s a credit to the actors, who manage to deliver their performances without you thinking, “hey, I’m watching a movie.” Something about what they’re saying, and how they’re saying it, feels like you’re in the room with them, overhearing their conversation. And this isn’t some “shot reality TV-style” film either, so the realism that comes across is still very strong anchored within a cinematic context. It’s refreshing to see, honestly.
Is the film without problems? Not entirely. It uses flashback footage liberally throughout, not just to tell the story or add exposition but as to give a visual parallel to the character’s lives. For the most part, it works. Other times, you wonder why the sudden shot of Phred as a child has popped into the edit. This doesn’t take away from the power of the film necessarily, but it also can’t be ignored.
While all the actors are wonderful, particular praise should be pointed at Gregorio Parker for his portrayal of Dante. He manages to make Dante compelling and charismatic, all while hidden behind a haze of booze, beard and cigarette smoke. While Phred’s story may be the one that frames it all, Dante’s was the one I found myself most interested in, and that was largely thanks to Gregorio Parker’s performance.
I’m more than a little surprised that I hadn’t heard of this film previously, or seen it in a fest lineup. It’s quite good, and I would expect the fest circuit would be very kind to its style and tone. Maybe that is still to come, as I hope it gets out there somehow.
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