It’s easy to upset people, especially if your name happens to be Larry Clark; in 1995 he mortified cinema goers with his harsh depiction of dysfunctional teen life in New York in the movie Kids. Another Day In Paradise was a tame follow up movie starring James Woods and Melanie Griffith, but come 2001 and Clark was ready to horrify audiences again with true life tale about a group of naive teenagers in Florida.
Marty (Brad Renfro) is not the most intelligent teenager, forced pretty much to be friends with Bobby Kent (Nick Stahl) this is a very unconventional relationship; Bobby is a bully. At times Marty and Bobby get on fine, but at others Bobby takes pretty harsh action on his so called friend, hitting him, bad mouthing him, and even raping his girlfriend. In Bobby’s eyes whatever belongs to Marty belongs to him too. But there comes a time when you have to stand up against those that goad you and make your life seem worthless, one day Marty has a plan to put Bobby’s bullying ways to an end.
Bully is a really tragic tale, from all sorts of angles; this is a multi-layered story that when you look deep enough is a shocking wake up call to how kids behave in some social climates, you know it’s not all fiction, you know these things really happen.
The movie itself is set surrounding the events that led up to the murder of Bobby Kent (real life name), described as Eddie Haskell like (a snake in the grass character from the hit TV show Leave It To Beaver) Kent was seen by adults to be a kind considerate young man who was destined to succeed. However people his own age saw him as a depraved bisexual, sadomasochist, who seemed to get pleasure from hurting and abusing his peers. The real life Bobby Kent after years of abusing people he knew was murdered en-masse by a group of his peers on 15th July 1993.
Bully looks first at the depraved world of Bobby Kent played very well by once A List star Nick Stahl, it’s a long uncomfortable look at a despicable human being, watching Stahl’s performance apparently a pale comparison of the real character you kind of wish his death, seeing the way he treats people. Having looked at his life in focus, the movie then flips slightly asking the question “Do you know what your kids are up to?” looking at the free sex that carried on between them, the drug taking, and complete disregard of anything legal. Finally the focus revolves around the death of Bobby Kent and the subsequent outcome for those that committed the murder.
Bully is an uncompromising movie, there are lots of incredibly bad language as well as a really odd view of life and how you treat people. On top of this there is an awful lot of nudity, as all the teenagers engage in a series of what most might deem as unusual sexual activities. I’m not talking anything that out of the ordinary as such, but there is lots of sex while others casually look on. I think about the circle of friends I had around that age, and while we were probably all having sex I don’t know if any of us where having it in a room full of other people, I think as adventurous as we may have got was in a car in the middle of nowhere, and this was a experience made for two only. I find it difficult to understand the way they treat sex almost like an innocent act, it seems like something no different to these kids than playing on a Playstation. But if reports are true, again the way these teens behave is a pale comparison to the actual reality of the situation. Kent in particular would apparently not just rape his friend’s girlfriends, but his friends too; none of this was shown in the movie.
Marty played by the recently deceased Brad Renfro displays a fairly accurate performance of the real Marty (apparently), somewhat insular, a little bit lacking, and with often violent tempers caused by years of abuse at the hands of Kent. It’s hard to look at Refro’s incredibly strong performance and understand that the events that eventually cost the actor his life were already in full flow by the time Bully was made; while he plays a character troubled by a variety of issues his performance is as strong as it could be. Bully is undoubtedly the best movie from the actor who’s movies also include Apt Pupil, The Client, and Ghost World.
Other noteworthy performances come from Bijou Phillips and actress who for a period of about 5 years was unfortunately cast as the loose moraled one examples being in the movies Tart and Havoc, in Bully there is no difference, as Ali Willis Phillips is again typecast she is the girl who won’t say no to anything sexual, low or even no morals being her anthem. The dreary Michael Pitt stars as Donny Semenec, a loser drug addict who is bought into the whole murder through his severe lack of intelligence; Semenec in real life is the highest profile character in the Kent murder due to his lack of understanding of the events. Leo Fitzpatrick who was cast in Clarks Kids as the lead returns here as Derek the brains behind the final crime.
Despite the harshness of the movies main content it’s the killing of Bobby Kent that leaves you most shell shocked, and I need to point out this happens a long way before the movies end. This savage killing is quite disturbing to watch, but again only a distant relative of the truth of the actual crime.
Bully works because it shows all aspects of the story, from the making of friendships that lead to the murder to what occurs after the death of Bobby Kent. Bully is hard-hitting, aggressive, but an interesting view of a terrible crime the after effects of which are still felt in Florida to this very day.