First a disclaimer. The film “Bully” being discussed here is not the critically acclaimed documentary released in 2012, but a docudrama released in 2001. With that out of the way …
Like most of Larry Clark’s films, “Bully” is a hard film to recommend to people, let alone admit that you liked or admired it. If you know what I’m talking about, then you know Clark tends to let his camera linger a little too long on things that would prompt most rational people to call the police.
“Bully” is no exception. Like Clark’s earlier, better-known, and arguably more notorious debut film “Kids,” “Bully” is a disturbing look at young people with no values, no moral compass, and, if truth be told, no brains. The kids of Clark’s films aren’t misunderstood lost souls battling adults who don’t understand them or who live in an environment that will never let them get ahead. In “Bully,” the kids are comfortably middle-class, but aside from working minimum wage jobs in strip malls, don’t appear to have any ambition other than getting high or getting laid.
“Bully” is a tale about the murder of a real-life teenage bully and rapist named Bobby. There’s no doubt that Bobby is a loathsome individual. However, what makes the film “Bully” so interesting is how the plot to murder him by the people he abused is planned, executed, and then concluded. It doesn’t take a criminologist to conclude that most violent crime is committed by people who are not that smart. Clark’s film is one of the most vivid portrayals of extremely stupid people carrying out a heinous act and then practically giving themselves away. It’s not a matter of someone snitching, but with all the insanely dumb things that are done before, during, and after the act, you’re actually shocked that their plot isn’t found out earlier.
Please believe me when I say that “Bully” is one of the most disturbing films you’ll ever see. It’s the only film I’ve ever seen that made me want to shower afterwards … with the help of a wire brush and Comet cleanser. The movie hit home for me in a lot of ways, mainly because the Florida setting and aimlessness of the characters reminded me a lot of the people I knew in the beach community where I grew up. However, as graphic and as sickening as the unrated film often is (its NC-17 rating was surrendered), you may think on first glance that this is just another Clark perv-fest. (The notorious “crotch cam” shot doesn’t help dispel this notion). However, not only is “Bully” based on a true story and fairly accurate (at least as far as the events as portrayed in the Jim Schutze true crime book of the same name are concerned) but that, if anything, Clark showed “restraint” in making his film, because the real version of events are even more disturbing and harrowing that what’s depicted here.
The film contains some brilliant performances, especially by Brad Renfro as Marty, Bobby’s best friend, biggest victim, and someone Bobby has a homoerotic fixation on; Leo Fitzpatrick as the moronic suburban “hitman” hired by the crew; Rachel Miner as Marty’s girlfriend Lisa, who is raped (and may be pregnant) by Bobby; Bijou Phillips as Ali, Bobby’s sometime girlfriend and rape victim; and last, but certainly not least, Nick Stahl as Bobby, the loathsome bully of the film and victim of doltish mob justice.
“Bully” in my opinion, is not only Clark’s masterpiece, but one of the best true crime films ever made.
Please note that the trailer attached here is not safe for work.