2001 - unrated - 113 Mins.
|Director: Larry Clark
|Producer: Chris Hanley, David McKenna, Don Murphy and Fernando Sulichin
|Written By: Zachary Long and Roger Pullis
|Starring: Brad Renfro, Rachel Miner, Bijou Phillips, Nick Stahl and Michael Pitt
|Review by: Bill King
The greatness of "Bully" isn't obvious at first. It takes some thought before the concept sinks in. At first glance, this is a nasty bit of cinema, a movie featuring nearly non-stop graphic sex and brutal violence. After gathering my thoughts and thinking about what I had just seen, I realized that Larry Clark's movie is a courageous and revealing look at alienated teens and how they are content to live their lives in a cesspool of drugs, sex and fast food. It's also about how teens that possess no morals talk the talk, but are unwilling to walk the walk. Most importantly, it is about the pain of taking a life. Life, no matter who it belongs to, is not something that can be gambled with. Murder is ugly, and Clark puts us through an ordeal to make that point clear.
I've seen many movies in which the bully gets what he deserved at the hands of those he picked on. "Bully" differs because it isn't a revenge fantasy. It wasn't made to satisfy those people who were picked on in high school. Instead, "Bully" is based off of events that took place in 1993 in a Hollywood, Florida suburb. In the end, a group of friends killed a troublesome tormentor. Their insecurities and inability to handle the consequences caused their capture by the police.
Clark wastes no time in introducing his morally corrupt characters. Within the first 15 minutes, Marty (Brad Renfro) and Bobby (Nick Stahl) are having sex with two girls they just met, and visiting a bar featuring Teen Amateur Night, with scantily clad males dancing and getting dollars stuffed down their shorts.
For all his life, Marty has been picked on by Bobby. Bobby punches Marty, orders him around, bangs his head off of objects, scares away potential dates. Marty accepts it. Other characters feel Bobby's wrath. He rapes Ali (Bijou Phillips), a friend of Lisa (Rachel Miner), Marty's girlfriend. When Marty spills his guts and tells Lisa of how Bobby has always been that way, she coldly says that they should kill him. They recruit friends Ali, Donny (Michael Pitt), Heather (Kelli Garner) and Derek (Daniel Franzese) to take part in the plot. When they find that they don't have the means to do it, they go to the Hitman (Leo Fitzpatrick), who is an expert at this sort of thing.
Their families don't seem that bad. Bobby has had a good life, is college-bound and has a father who cares for him. Marty's parents aren't the negligent type. He has asked them to move away from the neighborhood, but they don't because they have lives there, and because they don't fully understand the trouble that Marty has with Bobby. They're not bad parents, which suggests that something else caused the childhood of Bobby, Marty and every other teen to go wrong.
Larry Clark set his film in fast food restaurants, beaches, arcades, dark swamps and bedrooms. That is the world of these kids. At some point, they came to believe that their lives revolve around these locations. They don't know how much life can offer, so they engage in self-destructive behavior as a method to fill the void. They missed out on a real childhood.
Once the big scene comes, the scene in which they kill Bobby, we get the sense that these characters are sure of themselves. We see them acting tough throughout the movie, able to indulge in despicable behavior without a sense of remorse. Then there is hesitation, a realization that the plan isn't foolproof. This doesn't hinder them, and they execute Bobby in one of the most painful scenes I've ever witnessed in a movie. The murder is revolting and sad. Bobby realizes that he will die, and his pleads are of no use.
Clark's direction is harrowing. He gives us characters on a path to self-destruction, and watching teens go through these experiences is unsettling. He put his actors through a lot, but he delivers a movie worthy of their courage. By stripping away all notions of sensationalism or exploitation, Clark makes the material look bleak, which is simply the honest approach. Brad Renfro, first seen in "The Client" (1994), gives his best performance as the tortured Marty. Nick Stahl (In the Bedroom) is appropriately slimy as the bully Bobby. Bijou Phillips and Rachel Miner have the toughest roles, because their roles call for a lot of nudity, but that's only to show that sex is their way of passing time. Eroticism is not the point. Leo Fitzpatrick (from Clark's Kids) is chilling as the Hitman. "Bully" is a courageous film, one of the best of 2001.