Friday, April 25, 2008


2001; directed by Larry Clark; written by David McKenna and Roger Pullis; based on the book Bully: A True Story of High School Revenge by Jim Schutze

When eight teens in suburban Florida kidnapped and beat a classmate on video just so they could post it on YouTube, America was outraged and riveted.

I was too, but less than most, because I'd already seen Larry Clark's Bully.

Clark is also responsible for the equally controversial Kids.
Like its predecessor, Bully is populated by soulless adolescents with too much time and hormones on their hands. The few adults who are present are too clueless and consumed by their own lives to do much more than pretend an interest in their kids' lives, and so they grow wild. But while Kids takes place in a grimly oblivious New York City, Bully is set in a dystopian Florida suburb of middle class tract homes and downscale strip malls.

Based on a true story, Bully revolves around a group of high-school students and dropouts who decide to kill an emotionally, physically and sexually abusive classmate. The cast -- led by Nick Stahl as the bully and the late Brad Renfro as his best friend, with Bijou Phillips, Rachel Miner and Michael Pitt -- are a fearless bunch, who meet the demands of the script's blistering story and dialog as well as Clark's own coldly erotic and slightly creepy directorial style.

Disturbing and titillating, shocking and even occasionally funny, the film progresses from one scene of graphic sex, violence and/or drug use to another, yet never feels exploitive. It's more like hanging out with the worst kids in school, watching as they have sex, get high, play video games, and plot to kill the guy everyone hates most.

After inexpertly bludgeoning, stabbing and shooting Stahl's character, everyone discovers just how difficult killing someone actually is. Almost immediately the characters begin unraveling as they struggle with fear, guilt, paranoia and the impulse to avoid responsibility while assigning blame to everyone else in the group.

Bully isn't a horror film, but it is horrifying, with young and attractive monsters who turn out to be something both more and less than human. They're seductive and repellent, ignorant and far too worldly. Lost, angry, cruel, and everywhere.

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