Bully (2001)

4/5

USA, Larry Clark


Mature Audiences – Explicit Sexual Content and Nudity; Pervasive Strong Language; Violence


Bobby Kent (Nick Stahl) and Marty Puccio (Brad Renfro) have been friend “almost since they’ve been born”, but their relationship is toxic and full of pent-up anger and hatred. Bobby has always been humiliating Marty in a myriad of ways, from the benign ear-twisting and peremptory orders to raping his girlfriend Lisa (Rachel Miner) under his very eyes. Marty is only too aware of this, but somehow he is helpless against the abuse. He thinks his silent suffering is over when Lisa proposes to murder the bully, enrolling into the sordid adventure all their naïve, aimless friends, some of which have also suffered at the hands of the young sadist, while others don’t even know him. But their plan goes horribly awry. Could it have gone otherwise?

The territory explored in Bully has been mapped out long ago, with its neat streets, azure skies, neat greens and hip teens. Clark plays in a loop leering, lurid sequences of debauchery and trite dialogues, filming with a deliberate, numbing monotony the downspiraling of a bunch of lost kids – a tiresome and borderline repulsive exercise he will take to the extreme in Ken Park. Fortunately, after a disappointing albeit energetic first act, loose plot threads are eventually bundled together and the ensemble veers towards a harrowingly and frightfully believable account of teen revenge. The crescendo is carefully orchestrated, leading to a gut-wrenching, chaotic climax. By turn tragic and cathartic in an almost Biblical sense and pathetic, the kid’s murderous venture starts as a silly adventure (Tom Sawyer is mentioned more than once) and ends in messy panic. The acting is uniformly excellent, but Rachel Miner effortlessly stands out; chilling in her resolve and strength when we meet her, her eventual emotional collapse is spectacular and painful to watch.

Starting as a hollow, garish evocation of teen angst and hedonism, Bully avoids the predicable traps of the genre. It’s not about hedonism downspiraling into spleen-fuelled nihilism; it’s never cool and glamorous. On the contrary, it’s about a desperate act nurtured by sick, weak minds in a silly and cruel fit of frenzy. The sheer absurdity fosters a pitch-black, twisted breed of humour, but at heart it’s as tragic and hopeless as it gets.


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