“Bull” marks director Annie Silverstein’s debut. It’s set in
Houston and follows Kris, a troubled 14-year old-girl (Amber Harvard) whose mother is in the state penitentiary, and Abe, an ex-bull rider (Rob Morgan) way past-his-prime who is barely making his living working the weekly rodeo circuits. Both damaged beings are at a crossroads in their lives—very different but none the less the form an unlikely bond and attempt self-discovery before it is too late for them both.
Can you teach an old dog new tricks? It’s a theme loosely explored in the film as it pushes deeper into the story.
We first meet Kris taking care of the family dog, giving her grandmother (Keeli Wheeler) an insulin shot and making the best of economic hardships. Kris is shouldering more than a child her age should. Her mother is in prison, and she’s forced to help raise her little sister (Keira Bennett). No surprise that she fights at school.
One boring, lonely night, trying to impress classmates, Kris breaks into the home of Abe, a hard-drinking and painkiller using former rodeo star whose been relegated him to now just wrangling bulls rather than riding them.
Furious Abe calls the police but takes pity on Kris who later helps him clean up.
Over the start of their journey, the two begin to form a silent bond. An unspoken understanding that they both need someone. She begins to tag along with him meeting other black rodeo workers and their families.
She quickly forms a bond and decides that she wants to ride, starting with riding “the barrel,” a mechanical device that simulates the experience of riding a wild, bucking bull. Kris is hooked. A lifeline to cling to a necessary break from her bleak routine.
When she attends her first rodeo, she falls in love and starts hammering Abe with questions about life as a bull-rider.
Slowly he responds to her curiosity and gives her a few lessons and it’s here that the friendship (and the story) begins to develop.
There is no mutual rehabilitation by a “supernatural negro” like seen in Oscar-winning “Green Book,” here the film’s approach toward race is
is rarely addressed. The casual racism that swirls around these characters is a copy-cat (almost) of how racism envelopes Americans. It’s like air … always there.
At its heart “Bull” is about the necessary work that is needed by every human being that has decided to change their life. Yes, it’s daunting. Growth is often unpleasant but it makes space for the unexpected.
The acting is solid with young Havard delivering an even and believable performance. Necessary since the magnetic Morgan fills every frame with his character’s presence.
All-in-all “Bull” draws the viewer into the heart of the story where they can cherish the tender moments. We feel when Kris visits her dysfunctional mother (Sara Albright) in jail. We connect when she’s bonding with her sister and confiding with new friends. We cheer her new connection with rodeo buddies watching her slowly grow. These moments are necessary to bring the full story of “Bull” to life.
One of the jewels in “Bull” is the simple, straight forward way that the director, Silverstein, has decided to tell the story. Raising the question of what can a 14-year-old white girl learn from a middle-aged black ex-bull-rider?
Much like cowboys who work the circuit, the film approaches the story with the same methodical slow build with each trying to find their footing, so to speak.
There is inherent suspense in the film as the larger questions loom which are will they find love and mutual respect? Is that even a possibility given their age and race differences?
Director Silverstein’s story has managed to sidestep several clichés keeping her pacing strong allowing the film to patiently enfold. “Bull” is not a perfect film but it’s smart and made with tenderness.
“Bull” directed by Annie Silverstein. Screenplay by Annie Silverstein, Johnny McAllister. Starring Rob Morgan, Amber Havard, Yolonda Ross, Sara Albright, Keeli Wheeler, Keira Bennett, Steven Boyd.
On-demand and digital- May 1, 2020.