Bull Is So Much More Than a Coming-of-Age Cliché – Vulture

Rob Morgan as Abe in Bull. Photo: Courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films

The uninitiated see bull riding as the ultimate demonstration of senseless, pointless risk, while the initiated see it pretty much the same way. There’s just no sane reason for attempting to hold with one hand to a creature that has been reduced to pure rage and sinew and hates you with the fire of a thousand suns — unless you think that life is like that already, and there’s nowhere else you can go to be simultaneously trampled into dust and cheered. Nonetheless, the prospect of an inspirational, “Go for It” movie centering on a 14-year-old girl’s attempt to escape her horrible homelife by apprenticing with a mangled ex–bull rider seemed perverse in the extreme — until I saw the film, which isn’t that at all. Annie Silverstein’s Bull doesn’t jerk you around. It doesn’t Go for It. It’s quieter and more pensive than a glib summation (or a trailer) would suggest, but it never goes soft.

The girl, Kris (Amber Havard), has a mother who’s behind bars (and likely to remain so until she controls her temper) and a grandmother who simply hasn’t the energy or stout heart to be a proper surrogate. Kris doesn’t act out in ways that scream delinquent. Her recklessness is strangely detached, as if she’s going with the flow, as if her fate has been predetermined. In a transparent attempt to hold on to her friends, she breaks into the home of her neighbor, Abe (Rob Morgan) — who’s away at the rodeo, being one of those brave fellows who strives to keep bulls from pulping their fallen riders — and parties hard with Abe’s booze, pills, and chickens (which provide hours of indoor fun). Although prepared to go to “juvie” (on some level even wanting to), Kris indentures herself to Abe for a spell that seems to stretch out. She’s in no hurry to stop coming around, and he … well, he puts up with her presence.

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