Arriving in Cannes with her first feature, Annie Silverstein’s film is a story of mentorship and identity within the world of bull riding
At the forefront is determined teenager Kris (Amber Havard) and bull expert Abe (Rob Morgan). Kris’ life is precarious, with her mother in jail, she is left to her own devices. Ducking under the strict arms of her Grandmother, she navigates her own youthful independence by testing the limits of her actions. Pushing the boundaries of acceptability leaves her with an unrelenting energy that she must learn to channel in a new direction.
Fighting to carve herself a future that is separate to her mother’s, Kris grows interested in the high-adrenaline experience of bull riding. Intrigued by the risky excitement of the sport, Abe is Kris’ introduction to the world of the rodeo circuit.
This diversion of ambition transpires with Kris and Abe unwillingly becoming friends. Understood, perhaps, more as a student-teacher relationship, Abe steps into the role of mentor for Kris. Abe’s time in the rodeo ring as bullfighter is growing short as his injuries catch up with him, his position becomes part of passing his knowledge onto the next generation.
At times, Abe appears as a character that Kris is using. There remains a distinct disconnect in Abe’s narrative that doesn’t develop into anything particularly eventfully innovative even though his story has material for the most engaging material. Rushed character arcs towards the end of the film leave the pair in a new space, where the satisfaction for these individuals is not quite reached.
Kris and Abe’s stifled connection is a dynamic that is made realistic by Havard and Morgan’s performances. Both their characters embody a skilful determination, yet there is an entanglement of their character arcs that gets itself lost. The focus is pushed and pulled between the two, resulting in a film that does not quite manage to find a distinct voice that balances both characters.
Yet, Silverstein manages to ground Bull in an authentic realism that is compelling for a modern western setting. The drama indulges in Kris’ coming-of-age battle as she deals with numerous pressing issues in her life: her mother’s jail sentence, financial insecurity and her chicken-killing dog.
The rural landscape is the playground for Kris’ antics, kids running as wild and recklessly as the energetic bulls. Small-town life in the South of Texas is shown through the portrait of this young girl, displaying a story in a landscape that is similar to the likes of Chloé Zhao’s The Rider and Andrew Haigh’s Lean on Pete. Bull tried to find a distinction in its identification with the young woman and although, Bull does capture this alternative perspective, the film doesn’t reach the same emotional poignancy as these other modern westerns.
As Silverstein’s first feature, Bull is an interesting film for its dealings with a young woman in the centre of a adrenaline-filled world she may not have otherwise been associated with. Perhaps not as memorable as some alternative films that offer a similar presentation of the modern western, Bull finds itself viewing this world through a unique perspective.