Films inspired by or based on true events can be problematic. When
the script writer or director employs dramatic license, many will cry foul,
as was the case with BOYS DON'T CRY. A similar fate has already befallen
BULLY, which is an adaptation of Jim Schulze's nonfiction book
Bully: A True Story of High School Revenge, which recounted the 1993
murder of Floridian Bobby Kent. Many people have already taken issue
with author Schutze's take on the material. In his book and in the film,
the driving force behind the killing is Lisa Connelly (well played by
Rachel Miner in a breakout performance), a troubled young girl who
becomes obsessively in love with Marty Puccio (Brad Renfro). Marty is
the best friend and whipping boy of Bobby Kent (Nick Stahl), a predator
who employs physical, verbal, psychological and sexual abuse to control
and subjugate those around him. There are, however, those who claim
that Ms. Connelly was more a victim than instigator, and that Kent's
death was gang related and not a premeditated murder.
Since the absolute truth will perhaps never be known, one has
to look at the film BULLY and judge it on its own merits. The screenplay
credited to Zachary Long and Roger Pullis (reportedly
AMERICAN HISTORY X's scribe David McKenna was originally paired
with novice Pullis) depicts a teen world filled with dead-end jobs and
boredom. To pass the time, these young people surf, have unprotected
sex (graphically depicted), play violent video games and drive around
in their cars. Parental influences are almost nil. It's no wonder that
the concept of committing a murder takes on the air of a lark.
Director Larry Clark handled similar territory with his 1995 debut
KIDS, which examined a nihilistic underground of skateboarders in
Manhattan. Employing a similar, if slicker, cinema-verité style, Clark
seems to be on a mission to capture one facet -- albeit a seamy one --
of American teen life. Many will be put off by the director's fetishistic
filming of the numerous sex scenes, but those familiar with both KIDS
and ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE will recognize Clark's signature.
KIDS benefited from its novice cast, while James Woods and Melanie
Griffith displayed their thespian skills in ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE.
With BULLY, Clark has employed an intriguing mix of veterans and
newcomers, and the results are generally good. Nick Stahl has excelled
at playing the outsider in films like DISTURBING BEHAVIOR) but here
delivers a chilling turn as the possibly psychotic Bobby. There are
hints that Kent may have been a closeted homosexual (he often
forces Marty to participate in gay-themed cons, like operating a
sex line as depicted in the opening scene, or entering a strip contest
at a gay bar or making gay porn videos). He is clearly a conflicted
person who compartmentalizes his life. Ironically, of the characters
depicted, Bobby Kent seems to have the brightest future. He's the
only one shown doing homework, he maintains a B average and
harbors dreams of going to college and then opening a business with
his father. Stahl is mesmerizing as this mercurial creature.
Just as impressive is Renfro as his hapless victim Marty, a
high school drop out without much of a future. This young actor
has had his own share of well-documented troubles which actually
inform his performance. Renfro holds the screen in every scene he's
in and his portrayal evolves from passivity to fury. It's an appropriate
and disturbing transition that the actor makes wholly believable.
Rachel Miner is a revelation as Lisa. Those who know this fine
actress from her five-year stint as Michelle Bauer on the CBS daytime
drama "GUIDING LIGHT" were already aware of her impressive skills,
but this is the first film that has allowed her to display her prodigious
gifts. She exhibits a nice chemistry with Renfro and her Lisa is a
nascent Lady Macbeth, goading her lover on to heights of glory.
The supporting cast also includes impressive work from the
normally annoying Bijou Phillips as one of Bobby's victims of
brutalization, up-and-comer Michael Pitt as a stoner along for the
ride, newcomers Kelli Garner and Daniel Franzese and Leo Fitzpatrick
(who played Telly in Clark's KIDS).
While there are occasional miscues in the editing and
camerawork (one 360-degree movement becomes dizzyingly annoying),
BULLY is a haunting work that raises more issues than it can fully
address. It certainly exposes some of the symptoms of a potential
problem. Whether it is indicative of an epidemic or merely an isolated
outbreak is better left for others to debate.
|© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.