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:: Bully

Director Larry Clark’s debut feature film was titled “Kids”, and that reflected a shocking, though fictional, slice of disaffected American youth. He has now made “Bully”, a film based on real events detailed in author Jim Schutze’s award-winning book of the same name. This is authentic in explaining the mindset that underlies teenage violence.

Bobby Kent (Nick Stahl) is more than just a neighbourhood bully. He has been sexually and physically abusing many teenagers with whom he’d been in contact, and controlled his “best mate” Marty Puccio (Brad Renfro), who couldn’t free himself from Bobby’s influence. Bobby is clever and set for a good future, but he has this dark side. Although they’d been friends since they were kids, Bobby humiliates Marty and has an unchecked penchant for rough sex with the girls he meets. He’s a real bad seed. Lisa Connelly is Marty’s girlfriend and she can’t stand the way that Bobby treats him. She realises that she must grab him from Bobby’s control. She plays on Marty’s resentment and hatches a plan to kill the bully. Lisa’a friend Ali (Bijou Phillips), who has been a sexual tease for Bobby, agrees with the plan. They enlist help from other friends, including The Hitman (Leo Fitzpatrick, who also starred in “Kids”), in plotting Bobby’s demise.

The interesting thing to observe is judging the characters. You listen to all the talking and plotting and see nervous teenagers who don’t realise the gravity of the situation. Actually, Bobby has been the person who shows ambition, despite his bullying behaviour. He wants to go to college and own a stereo shop with his father. His father told him to stop hanging around his dropkick mate Marty because he was a loser. Bobby can be seen as the group’s strength because he has always been upfront and honest within the group.

The other teenagers have little to look forward to and have a crappy existence. Instead of acting to better themselves, they seem content to be carried by the inertia of their wasted lives. What was the right way out for them? Instead of talking death, should they consider another means of retaliation? Did they have the capacity to think it through? The parents aren’t all depicted as absent figures of authority. At times, we see them acting concerned with the lives of their children.

This is a grim film that exposes us to the true horror of what’s going on inside the kids’ minds. The final half-hour forces the characters to stare deep into the face of reality. Clark’s directorial style is brutal but generally wins over. “Bully” can be viewed as harrowing and depressing and Clark came under fire for being graphic in the depiction of sexual activities. I believe it is wise in the way it offers clues and possibilities for the reasons behind the events and situations.

The performances from the young actors are mostly strong and daring. They are asked to explore dark areas of humanity and literally and physically expose themselves. It’s very natural. You will probably recognise singer Bijou Phillips as Ali. She gives a fine performance.

“Bully” will stay with you for a long time. It is not a perfect film by any means, but it is compelling and leaves a lasting image. It is well recommended and I suspect that it will be a sought-after film at the video stores too.