Within a span of a few years, Rob Morgan has quickly become one of our finest character actors. He’s gone from being the unsung hero of Mudbound to giving the weighty courtroom drama Just Mercy its heart and soul and creating a fully-realized character within his few scenes in The Photograph, becoming the film’s saving grace in the process. Much like the latter film, he’s the saving grace of Bull which quite frankly deserved to be strictly told from his perspective.
Bull primarily follows Kris (Amber Havard), a rebellious preteen who lives with her grandmother and younger sister while her mother is in prison. After she and her friends trash the house of her neighbor Abe (Rob Morgan), he forces Kris to atone for her misdeeds by doing chores around his house. As Kris learns about his past as a bull rider, she takes an immediate interest in the sport and both she and Abe form a friendship that shapes both their lives.
The film’s story is quite detrimental due to its familiarity. The whole “unlikely friendship” narrative is something we’ve seen a handful of times and while there isn’t necessarily any harm in creating such storylines, Bull hardly does anything new or interesting with it. In addition, Kris’ own storyline involving her hanging with the wrong social group from school makes the picture even more of a blend of familiar narratives: The aforementioned “unlikely bond” story, the “former athlete looking for redemption story” as seen in The Wrestler, and the “teenager falls with the wrong crowd” story.
As for Amber Havard as the soft-spoken Kris, she attempts to expand upon the limitations of her underwritten character by letting her seismic line readings reveal how Kris is flustered with the hand that life dealt her and uncertain on how to navigate her way around her difficult life. Similarly, Rob Morgan builds Abe from the ground-up, portraying him as an intriguing figure of rigidity and calmness. Then there’s Yolanda Ross who nails her few scenes as Sheila, Abe’s flustered old flame who he has a brief encounter with.
The actors do their best with the material that succumbs to sameness as well as overt minimalism. While the grainy cinematography by Shabier Kirchner attempts to capture the film’s somber feel along with the roughness within a working class American town, there’s too much reliance on well-shot yet insubstantial sequences focused on the mundanity of our characters’ routines drenched in near silence. Not to mention, whenever the camera closes in on Abe and Kris’ faces to illustrate their thought processes, it would quickly cut away before we get a glimpse.
In conclusion, Bull had the makings of a powerful story about a lost soul wondering how he can go on as his dreams slip away. Yet, it gets abandoned in favor of a typical and slightly undercooked friendship story. As previously mentioned, films like Bull have their heart in the right place when it comes to narratives such as these. However, it’s a matter of whether you can reinvigorate said narrative and sadly, Bull doesn’t quite do that. If anything, the typically supporting player Rob Morgan having a co-lead role is enough to give this a watch.EXTENDED BODY: