Larry Clark’s Bully is a fascinating and disturbing film to watch. It plays like an afterschool special penned by a modern day Marquis de Sade. It views suburbia as the crusty sheets on a seedy motel bed. A group of aimless teenagers drift through life like plankton in a dirty ocean. They drink, fuck, smoke weed, and drop acid to take them out of the prison of their lives, where mostly well meaning parents are the hardened screws. Every sunrise and sunset represent the cell doors slamming shut on their freedom.
Mark off the days until you get knocked up, locked up or forced to get a real job.
This film is a retelling of the 1993 murder of Bobby Kent. Clark spares us nothing as he shoves the viewers face in the casual depravity and sordid lives these Florida teenagers lead. The sex they have is random and often emotionless. It is as titillating as watching two shaved alley cats coming together behind a dumpster and humping amongst the garbage. The camera doesn’t blink during the murder and the viewer sees and hears every stab, gurgle, spurt and bone crushing thud.
After suffering under the tyranny of the alpha dog in their crew, they turn on him and essentially devour him like a pack of hyenas. All societies have laws, even those inhabited by people with no direction in life. Justice has to be handed out. A murder to them is as acceptable as making someone walk home from the pizza joint in the rain.
Bobby Kent is played by Nick Stahl. He is a blossoming sociopath. He viciously pummels his best friend for the slightest perceived infraction. Bobby rapes teenage girls. He tries to pimp best bud Marty—the late Brad Renfro—to middle aged men. Bobby is a vocal homophobe who is probably terrified of what excites him sexually. He uses homophobic slurs while trying to get people to watch gay men perform lewd acts he filmed with Marty. Not surprisingly, Bobby jokingly claims he is doing it to show how fucked up “those people” are and to sell it as porn. Would we be surprised if Bobby, a good student, grew up to become a CEO or senator?
Bobby Kent could best be described by simply using a different vowel in his last name.
We probably all knew a watered down version of Bobby. Many of us were victims of dead arms, wedgies, titty twisters and low level extortion. We probably all had friends who would stop at nothing to prevent us from getting with a person we wanted to be with, be it casually or a long term thing. These are all weapons in a bully’s arsenal and Bobby Kent is no different. He is just more demonic than most.
Marty meets Lisa, a quiet oddball, played by Rachel Miner. After knowing each other for an afternoon, they screw in the sweaty backseat of Bobby’s car, while Bobby is in the front with Lisa’s friend Ali(Bijou Phillips). Bobby seems more interested in watching Marty and Lisa than being with Ali. Bobby is a predator and he sees the passengers in his car as playthings. They are toys to be discarded with when he is finished bending and twisting them. They will always be there on the shelf for Bobby when he needs to play with them again.
Like many teenagers do, Lisa and Marty fall in love quickly. Lisa dislikes Bobby from the start. Marty recounts the history of Bobby’s cruelty to her as they get stoned in bed. Rain is falling outside and we can hear the rumbles of thunder in the distance. As she watches Bobby’s sadistic exploits firsthand, Lisa’s face looks like a porcelain doll. Her big dark eyes and inquisitive expression reveal something sinister within her soul. For her man, she is willing to fight fire with fire.
After another vicious episode, they simply decide that Bobby must be killed. Lisa enlists the help of a few friends and her cousin. They plan the murder as if they were uninviting someone to a birthday party. The lack of caring at the finality of what they are planning to do is disconcerting. The conversation is never completely focused as video games must be played, rap music listened to and emulated and acid dropped because that is what one girl needs who has just escaped rehab to help with the murder.
They realize that they are incapable of carrying out this task themselves, so they need to enlist the help of “the hitman”, who looks like he is all of nineteen or twenty. The “hitman”, played by Leo Fitzpatrick, offers many tough guy platitudes as he drinks beer in his parent’s garage with a group of criminal ten and eleven year olds. We get the sense that his mullet is writing checks his wife-beater can’t cash.
Under false pretenses, the group lure Bobby to an out of the way place near the marshes. It is the type of place all teenagers hang out. It is usually a place for bonfires, kegs and hooking up. It is here that Bobby Kent’s life ends. The scene gets increasingly chaotic as it gets closer to the murder.
The music score swells up like a bruised eye as the teenagers get more agitated and confused before the murder. Nerves freeze faster than rusty pipes in the Detroit winter. The music grows louder. It sounds like a busted up freight train filled with biochemical waste as it careens out of control. The audience is in the stalled car on the tracks.
Some bad shit is about to go down……
The entire cast is great in this. They seem so real. They don’t seem to speak the language that Hollywood writers usually put in films. They just seem to be tragically misguided thoughts of American youth. We would think it’s a documentary had we not seen some of the kids in other films before this one, films with happier endings.
The last twelve minutes or so of Bully are mesmerizing. It details their last days of freedom, their arrests and the beginning of the trial. Fatboy Slim’s “Song for Shelter(Talking ‘Bout My Baby)” blares on the soundtrack. We see the defendants in the pen in court. They bicker and accuse each other the way children do when they get caught. Blame is placed on everyone but themselves. Stern faces in the court room regard them silently, harshly. They seem sickened at what has transpired.
So will the audience. It doesn’t mean that the film isn’t brilliant.