The hushed, stoic “Bull” follows a formula based on personal redemption, but still has some quiet surprises along the way. At the heart of the film is a beautiful, character-driven story about the messiness of life and the symbiotic relationship that develops between a teenage girl and her next door neighbor. It’s an authentic slice of Americana that conveys the desperation of longing for a human connection.
Wayward girl Kris (Amber Havard) is only 14, but she’s already resigned herself to a life of being a nobody. She and her little sister are living with her broke grandma because their good-for-nothing mama is in jail. Kris has given up on her future, too, complacent in the fact that she’ll end up in the same boat as her mom some day.
After she spends the night trashing her neighbor’s house with her delinquent friends, Kris is given the option to be hauled off to “juvie” or help the ex-bull rider, Abe (Rob Morgan), with chores. She soon discovers an interest in the rodeo, and the pair develop a connection and a sense of family that’s been missing from their lives.
This isn’t one of those by-the-book “bull riding turns her life around” stories. It’s certainly not a feel-good film, either. It’s a very real portrayal of the struggle of two outsiders trying to reinvent themselves at different points in their lives. Kris is teetering through the obstacle course of adolescence while Abe is looking back on all the doors that are closing for good. He has a deep connection to the rodeo, but his body can’t withstand much more abuse. Both feel like misfits, invisible to the world and society around them.
Director Annie Silverstein draws charismatic, first-class performances from her leads, and she presents a not-often-seen on film look at black cowboy culture in Texas. Although the film is overtaxed with pointless subplots like Kris’ low level drug dealing and Abe’s love life, the details feel authentic. That’s what makes “Bull” such a poignant tale.