Bull is a low-key, tentatively absorbing tale. Its best quality is its naturalness.
Bull is about solitude and struggle in an alienating world. It's an empathetic story of two individuals who evolve as they cope with each other.
The two are different in age, gender, and race. But they share unsettling environments and enduring wills. They both live fitful lives. One is a 14-year old female Krystal (Amber Havard), and the other is a middle-aged African-American Abe (Rob Morgan). They are neighbors in the outskirts of Houston, Texas.
Krystal lives with her grandmother (Keeli Wheeler) and her little sister (Keira Bennett). Krystal's mother (Sara Albright) is in prison for drugs. They seem more human than dysfunctional. Abe lives by himself in his house. He works in bull-riding rings. He once was a rider, but now protects the riders. He's aware of his deterioration brought on by injuries and fights it. "I ain't no clown," he says.
Krystal breaks into Abe's house, and one night when he's away on a rodeo gig, she invites a bunch of unruly young miscreants to drink Abe's booze, take his medications, and play with his chickens indoors. They leave destruction and a total mess.
When Abe returns home the next day he faces his trashed home. Knowing it is Krystal's doing, he is going to have her arrested. But her grandmother begs him not to, and they settle of a punishment of her cleaning up.
Both Krystal and Abe view each other warily, but they slowly communicate. In a key moment, Abe tells Krystal how to deal with a bull. "Close your eyes," he tells her. When she finally does, he puts a hand on her forehead. "Put a hand on him," he says. "He relaxes. Then he's yours." This is not just a lesson about coping with bulls. Later Krystal utilizes the lesson.
Their relationship is not easy or simple, but it evolves. By the end of the film they have communicated significantly. They do understand one another.
If the film ultimately lacks punch, maybe our lives do, too. That's part of the film's humanity.
The indie film Bull participated in the Cannes Film Festival.
Director/writer Annie Silverstein has a deft touch. She has made documentaries and has a telling, natural grasp of humanity. She uses her background as a youth worker and community educator, which gives her the actuality of experience.
Silverstein uses non-actors effectively. She is able to feature a novice Amber Havard in the main female role. She also is able to get quiet chemistry from Havard and Rob Morgan. Morgan is a gifted pro. [He has some of the serious, thoughtful sensibility of actor Don Cheedle.]
The screenplay by Annie Silverstein and her husband Johnny McAllister doesn't blatantly emphasize racism, but it's there. When Abe is outside trying to control the screaming Krystal, as a car drives by, he stops. He knows how the battle looks. A black man doesn't struggle with a white girl.
Silverstein and McAllister use some subtle symbolism. A bull that downs Abe is a white bull.
The film has several enclosures that confine - prisons, bull rings, skating rinks. Breaking outside of them may be treacherous. Fences and walls and glass separate. Krystal and her mother have to talk on phones in prison as they are kept apart by glass, after her mother is transferred because she hit a guard in prison.
The characters in Bull are faced with the dilemmas of trying to escape the seeming dire inevitability of their lives.
Krystal and Abe accept the challenge and face this
The sounds of silence evolve into the sounds of crickets. Audible but invisible.
Krystal walks down this lonely path. But she has purpose.