BULLY directed by Larry Clark, written by Zachary Long and Roger Pullis from the book by Jim Schutze, produced by Chris Hanley, Don Murphy and Fernando Sulichin, with Brad Renfro, Rachel Miner, Bijou Phillips and Nick Stahl. 100 minutes. A Blacklist/Gravity Entertainment production. A Lions Gate release. Opens Friday (August 17). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 69. Rating: NNN
bully is appalling. i think that's because it's based on a true story. In essence, a group of high-school-age kids decide to take their revenge on an abusive bully by killing him.
Photo-essayist-turned-director Larry Clark had a succès de scandale with Kids, which unleashed Harmony Korine's sensibility on an unsuspecting world, and then made a great film that nobody saw (Another Day In Paradise, featuring Melanie Griffith's best performance in about a decade).
With Bully, he returns to the wonderful world of very young men with their shirts off and access to guns, the stuff that's informed his aesthetic since he took the photos collected in the legendary Tulsa ( now back in print thanks to Grove Press).
We've come a long way since then, and what's shocking in both Kids and Bully is less the exposed skin and drug use than the utterly casual amorality. These characters inhabit a world where no one seems to understand that actions have consequences, whether it's Bobby (Nick Stahl) not realizing that punching his "friend" Marty in the head while Marty's driving might get them both killed, or Lisa (Rachel Miner) not grasping that announcing her plans to kill Bobby might get her caught.
Clark shoots in a style that's at once hand-held raw and beautifully lit; Bully is set in Florida, so he has lots of light to play with. He's trying for documentary intimacy but can't resist the physical beauty of his young cast, a tension that makes Bully and Kids exceedingly creepy.
His sensibility traipses right up against the edge of the acceptable -- Calvin Klein's heroin chic ads come to mind -- and dares us to look away from the casual nudity of beautiful young actors.