Directed by Larry Clark
Starring Brad Renfro, Nick Stahl, Rachel Miner, Bijou Phillips, Leo Fitzpatrick
Lions Gate DVD
Although the trials and tribulations of adolescence might seem like a rite of passage for many, it is only when something so severe as murder occurs that these rites reach an unfathomable level of reality. Sure… angst, abuse and promiscuity read like textbook cases, no pun intended, of high school life. But in Larry Clark’s arresting Bully, a true story set right in my backyard of South Florida, the reactions to these phases reach a brutal and ultimately, fatal outcome.
As childhood buddies, Marty Puccio and Bobby Kent spent infinite hours together under the most peculiar of relationships. Played respectively and wonderfully by Brad Renfro and Nick Stahl, these “friends” socialized in underage male dance contests, made homoerotic videos featuring other men, and most significantly, comprised an oppressive relationship where Stahl’s Kent would constantly abuse Puccio. The character development of these two main characters was especially pivotal when both were shown apart and with their own families. Kent was a studious, obedient son on the fast track to a full-time career, while Puccio was a somewhat aimless but talented surfer whose family seemed virtually all-American.
But it isn’t until Lisa, Marty’s pregnant girlfriend (played by Rachel Miner) begins to unravel and loathes Kent’s attitude towards everyone that the nefarious plot to do away with him begins to take shape. With a solid all-around cast, including Bijou Phillips and Kids alumnus Leo Fitzpatrick, Bully is a surreal representation of how teen violence, caused by boredom, idolatry, envy, and rage, cannot be an open and shut case under any circumstance. Events such as Columbine have shaken our perceptions of how far these kids are willing to go, but this film is unrelenting in showing us what happens when they take it to this level. Clark dutifully blends elements of Kids — like explicit sex and narcotic indulgence by capricious, almost moronic characters, which at times can lead one to wonder how could they be so calculated as to commit murder.
As Kent lies gurgling blood in the Everglades after numerous stab wounds — including a slashed throat — and also bruises from baseball bats, he begs for mercy and apologizes before these teens throw him into the murky swamps. Although this might have been the case, the motives behind the murder seem kind of hazy. Supposedly, evidence lacks in the defendant’s claims of constant abuse by Kent, therefore creating ulterior motives for committing this horrific crime. Gang membership, jealousy, or any other factors might have come into play, but we are left scratching our heads, since the film is actually based on Jim Schutze’s book and not directly from police files. Regardless, Clark and company paint a harrowing picture of suburban youth gone wrong, which in turn, could force all of us to look twice in cases such as this so this tragic act doesn’t happen again.
As all seven non-repenting conspirators reside in prison, including Puccio (on Death Row), one can only imagine if this might have been prevented with a little more parental involvement, which was sorely lacking, apparently. Bully is often unrelenting in its script and subject matter. But every once in a while, we need these kinds of films to tear through the cookie-cutter explosions, special effects, and lackluster plots of most Hollywood pictures and really open our eyes to show that violence amongst teens isn’t limited to the schoolyard.