This story is unfortunately based upon real events that took place in Florida. Remembering this while watching the film should chill the viewer even more. The story of Bully depicts the relationship with two young men, Marty Puccio (Brad Renfro) and Bobby Kent (Nick Stahl). For years Bobby has made Marty’s life miserable. Each day brought new tortures that Bobby would inflict upon Marty. Bobby orders Marty around as if he was less than human. In a turning point, Bobby forces Marty to get up on a stage in a gay club and dance, patrons stuffing bills in the shorts of poor set upon Marty. At a party the odd couple of Bobby and Marty meet up with two girls, Ali and Lisa (Bijou Phillips and Rachel Miner). Bobby gets off voyeuristically watching Marty and Lisa in the backseat of the car and goes so far as to rape both girls. The beginning of the bully sets the stage that Bobby is completely devoid of anything good. He is evil incarnate and possesses no possibility of changing or redemption.
Along with three other friends, Donny (Michael Pitt), Heather (Kelli Garner), and Derek (Daniel Franzese) the small group drift around town obsessed with the only topic at hand, how Bobby has made their lives unbearable. Soon Lisa openly expresses the group’s underlying feeling "I want him dead". Once spoken the die is cast. The group crosses the line between complaining about Bobby and the dedication to do something about it.
They plan the murder in the same fashion that they live their desperate lives, haphazardly and without real direction. They go so far as to hire a kid that they believe has ‘mob’ connections, the Hit Man (Leo Fitzpatrick). Even he is pathetic having to catch rides with others.
Like other films by Clark, bully is the stuff that all parents lose sleep over. The world our children must inhabit outside the influence of our homes. Where bullies are real and the focal point of their existence. Since so many real life school shootings had a bully at the heart, Bully can hit too close to home for too many.
Typical of a Larry Clark film the casting represents the absolute best possible choices. Renfro as Marty shows a young man trapped between being abused by his best friend and passing on this abuse to the girl that loves and adores him. Renfro plays his role with sympathy and realism. Stahl as Bobby is incredible. There is almost nothing in this character for the audience to find remotely likeable. He is brutal and completely self adsorbed. Sure, the plot gives a little rationale for Bobby’s behavior, an overbearing and demanding father, but as in real life the ultimate choices are Bobby’s. Bobby is cruel to the core and everyone around him is forced to take action. Bijou Phillips, from the famous ‘Mommas and Poppas’ family, is perfectly cast as the party girl Ali.
She is sexy, experimental and ready for almost anything. It takes a vicious rape by Bobby to force her to realize that there are lines that are dangerous to cross. She seems almost too natural in this role. The real breakout star here is without a doubt Rachel Miner as Lisa. She portrays a sensitivity and innocence despite her association with Ali.
Lisa does fall in love with Marty too deeply, too quickly. Perhaps this is only a judgment made thirty years after I was a teenager. Adults tend to forget that for teens, emotions occur fast and without shades of gray. Like the breakout star of Clark’s first film ‘Kids’, Chloe Sevigny, the young Ms Miner is destined for far greater roles and accolades.
Films that Larry Clark directs are not the easiest films to watch. They are violent and gritty. From ‘Kids’ to ‘Another Day in Paradise’ Clark explores the world that too many young people inhabit, one of sex and drugs at all costs. Clark paints a dim picture of the youth of America. In his films they drift without aim or purpose.
In Bully even when the drastic action of murder is decided upon the group of battered teens seem to take action not out of any sense of justice or even revenge, it just seems to relive the boredom that surrounds their lives. The teens in his films are basically all cut from the same mold of lethargy and self-indulgence. Typical of Clark’s films every parental warning is in affect, adult content, adult language, sexual content, drug use, rape and nudity. Bully was not rated by the MPAA. If it had been submitted the length of Bully would have to drop from 112 minutes to about 20. Bully is not a film for the audience portrayed. In an off-handed manner Bully praises the lack of qualities many teens have.
The Bully DVD is excellent. The mastering is top notch. The Dolby 5.1 sound pounds out especially in one club scene early on. I had to turn down the audio to prevent the sub woofer from shaking the walls. The non-anamorphic video is exceptionally clear.
The extras in Bully are better than most independent films on DVD. There is an audio commentary by Clark, music only track and a short on the production process. One thing I enjoyed was a series of filmed interviews with the cast and crew about the process of making Bully. While not for everyone Bully is a must for Larry Clark fans. Bully shows a real event not from a documentary viewpoint but rather as a teen in the midst of things would see them.
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