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Bully (2001)
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Review Date: September 02, 2001
Director: Larry Clark
Writer: Zachary Long, Roger Pullis
Producers: Don Murphy, David McKenna, Chris Hanley
Actors:
Brad Renfro
Nick Stahl
Rachel Miner
Plot:
Have you ever thought about exacting revenge on a bully? Well, that's exactly what this picture is about, only it's based on a true story, in which several teenagers got together and killed a friend of theirs whom they considered to be a "bully". Was it right? Was it wrong? Should they have considered other means of retaliation? Did they even have the capacity to consider anything else? You figure it out. This film is raw, folks!
Critique:
Director Larry Clark (KIDS) is back and so are the pot-smoking teens, the homosexual undertones, the explicit sex scenes, the incubated lives of a group of teenagers and the shots of kids without their shirts on. In fact, prepare yourself to witness some of the most graphic sex and nudity in any film of this year. That having been said, the story behind this flick is actually quite an invigorating one, which will likely ensure a very strong opinion from pretty much anyone who sees it. I personally think that a lot of people will hate this movie (as some of the walk-outs during my screening indicated), while others will be transfixed by the film's indisputable power and solid performances. I for one was drawn in by its characters, all of whom were very ignorant, but also very genuine and easy to relate to. Clark was definitely trying to create a very "real" environment here (most likely because it was based on a true story), and certainly developed an authentic enough mood, for me to be seriously shaken when the actual murder scene took place. In fact, it was probably one of the most chilling murders that I've ever seen in any movie. Some call this "cinema verite" when taken a little further, but Clark definitely overplays his card in this film as well.

There are several naked shots of kids that have NO REASON to be in the film, other than to stimulate some kind of sick reaction from the audience (certain crotch angles as well). There is a girl talking on the phone naked. I mean, does she really have to be naked, dude? This kind of over-the-top smuttiness wasn't appreciated, as the story was interesting enough as it was, even without all of that malarkey. Clark also over-directs one scene in which a camera circles round and round for about two minutes. Pretty much everyone in the audience was groaning at this move, and it completely took me out of the film. Luckily for us, Clark's over-indulgence didn't override the film's terrifying concept about seeking revenge on someone who has hurt you in the past (or continues to). Is it right? Does a lifetime of physical, mental and emotional abuse require retribution and if so, should every individual be allowed to defend and exact that type of abuse on their own? (some courts have dismissed certain wives for the killing of their husbands on the basis of the "battered wife" syndrome, which is based on years and years of abuse). In this film, there is a whole other element at work as well: "group-think". That's the theory by which a set of people belonging to the same circle will ultimately begin to think alike and subconsciously succumb to the peer pressure of their friends, and fall into a "mob mentality". In this case, a bunch of loser kids, with little to do with their lives but smoke pot, play video games and have sex, decide to focus their unrequited energies onto someone who they believe to be in part, the cause of their nothingness.

Then, the film shows us that A) yes, the kid in question is definitely an asshole and most definitely deserved something in return for all of his abuse, and B) that there are always other environmental elements which affect these kids as well (including said bully), which may also be the cause of their crappy existence. Of course, it's up to you to decide whether or not you agree or disagree with the actions committed in this film by the kids, but I think everyone will definitely agree about it all being very disturbing and unsettling. I will credit Clark for creating a very realistic movie and the golden performances put forth by all of his cast members, but also ask him to please lay off the shots of 12-year old kids playing pool with their tops off (c'mon man...give us a break with that shite!) As for the cast, everyone involved was definitely here to play (although Bijou Phillips doesn't seem to want to break her type-casting role of the "slut" in every film), with the biggest shout-outs reserved for Brad Renfro, who totally becomes this shy, vulnerable, bubbling loser and Nick Stahl for doing everything possible to have you hate his guts (and it works!). A big "thank you" also goes out to actor Michael Pitt, for being able to crack wise throughout the entire film and liven shit up when things were getting intolerably dark.

This is not a film for everyone but should definitely be seen by open-minded people looking for a picture that clashes with your run-of-the-mill bubblegum teen flicks starring the latest TV starlet in a tight top. This film features some seriously disturbing scenes, many resonant moments and an interesting moral middle. Incidentally, this film was based on the true story of several teens in Florida who committed a very similar crime (see their website here). Sadly, lots of shit that happens in this film goes on every day in our high schools and many parents are still oblivious to it all (check out the ones in this film). Clark obviously takes things a little "too far" in this movie, but maybe that's the point as well. I was shaken by this film and it had be thinking, so I guess that can't be all bad, eh?
(c) 2017 Berge Garabedian
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