Dir: Larry Clark. US. 2001. 110 mins.
In his third feature, Bully, legendary photographer-turned-director LarryClark continues to explore the same issues he had tackled in his controversialdebut, Kids, a cause celebre that led Miramax to briefly create a new divisionjust for its release. As written by Zachary Long and Roger Pullis, Bully's script, based on Jim Schultze's disturbing novel, is a reworking of an actual 1993 murder in a South Florida suburb, in which a rough, truly complicated and abusive boy (splendidly played by Nick Stahl, who is pictured left) was ruthlessly killed by his friends. Lions Gate faces a toughchallenge in marketing another harrowing picture in the US (along with theupcoming O, which it tookoff Miramax's worried hands, which also concerns amoral youths engaged insenseless violence).
Produced by the then-rebelfilmmaker Gus Van Sant, Kids benefited from its clandestine Sundance premiere which, combined with Clark's penchant for lurid subject matter, created a buzz for the candid, if disappointingpicture, before it went to Cannes. No luck this time: One can understand thenervousness of Lions Gate, which pulled the movie (at the very last minute) outof LA's Method Festival and decided not to play any festival.
Though intended as a cautionary, wake-up call, Bully evidenced the same problems that both Kids and Another Day In Paradise(Clark's sophomore effort), suffered from: Lack of a sharp point of view andfailure to dramatize harrowing events. With a background in photography, Clarkis not much of a dramatic filmmaker, and, while his fascination with youth attheir most problematic and depraved is admirable, his movies are not onlyepisodic but shapeless, walking a fine line between still photos and emotionalmelodramas.
Set in affluent Florida suburb,Bully's story concerns twofriends: A shy, insecure surfer, Marty Puccio (Renfro) who's constantly hassledand harassed by Bobby (Stahl), all in the name of a supposedly intimatecamaraderie. The imbalanced relationship between these two changes, when Martyfalls in love with a sex-starved girl, Lisa (Miner), who immediately sees throughBobby. Almost on a whim, she proposes "to kill the bastard," an ideahat's quickly embraced by her cohorts, specifically Heather, who, in previousencounter was beaten and raped by Bobby.
Discussions of how to getrid of Bobby occur amidst other "fun" sessions, in which theyoungsters engage in aimless routines: drive their cars, smoke dope, make love,and so on. Marty has a job, but the others seem exist outside any norms, livingboth an amoral and immoral life for which their parents and teachers (depictedas caricatures) fail to provide any direction or guidance.
Clark is not a moralist,which is admirable, but he is also not much of a dramatist either. All toooften, one gets the impression that the fascination with youth in his pictures,just like his photos, provides an excuse for sheer voyeurism. How else can hejustify that most of kids are fully naked most of the time (even when theydon't screw), and that an admiringly caressing camera is placed between girls'legs, or glides over the boys' sexy chests and butts. Nonetheless, in contrastto Kids, which was incendiary butshallow, here Clark's morbid gaze is targeted at agonizing issues in a slightlydeeper, more responsible way.
Vastly uneven, Bully vacillates between genuinely compelling andhorrifying scenes, such as the deliberately planned and executed murder, andothers that are dramatically unstructured and visually sensationalistic, withimages thrown in just because they form an intriguing erotic composition, orprovide an interesting isolated observation. It's too bad that the peculiarblend of shocking beauty and distressing horror, which defines Clark's stillphotos, is missing from his movies.
Prod cos: A Muse/Blcklist production, in association withGravity Entertainment
US dist: Lions Gate
Int'l sales: Wild Bunch
Exec prods: Jordan Gertner, Mark Mower, Manuel Chiche
Prods: Chris Hanley, Don Murphy, Fernando Sulichin
Scr: Zachary Long, Roger Pullis, based on the book, Bully:A True Story of High School Revenge
DoP: Steve Gainer
Ed: Andrew Hafitz
Main cast: Brad Renfro, Rachel Miner, Nick Stahl, LeoFitzpatrick