Monday, November 15, 2010

"Bully" (Lionsgate, 2001) gives an older perception of the teen bullying problem

From Bill's Movie News and Reviews
After viewing the Southern Poverty Law Center film “Bullied” about anti-gay bullying, I looked for other films about the problem, and found a 2001 Lionsgate film (financed in France by Studio Canal and shot in Florida) “Bully”, based on the book “Bully: A True Story of High School Revenge” by James A. Schutze, directed by Larry Clark (who directed “Kids”). Here, the perpetrators and victims are equally crude heterosexuals.

The setup is that, among some high school dropouts, Bobby (Texas reared Nick Stahl) constant torments his “best friend” Marty (Brad Renfro), who isn’t too smart. Marty’s girl friend gets together some friends and hires a “hit man” (Leo Fitzpatrick, who describes the character as a petty gang leader) along with a baby hit man Donny (Michael Pitt, later to have a similar role in “Funny Games”). The trouble all along is that none of the kids are likeable; their behavior is gratuitous and graphic, their language foul, their character all spoiled. Their chain smoking is depressing! Who cares about them? They are "white trash". And seriously, who would beat up his "best friend" for sport? That didn't happen in my high school days, even 1961. I didn't believe it. Yet, this movie is basd on true events.

Nick Stahl plays the dubious young anti-hero (here, just starting to look like a grownup man). One of Nick's former characters gets whacked in another film, “In the Bedroom”, but in that movie he is lovable and his loss is a source of grief. Not here. The kids’ values are circular, and give little real insight into the problem of bullying as we know it today.

The “hit” scene is horrific (2/3 into the film, climaxing the “middle”), not subtle (no “Blood Simple” here), as Bobby comes to the realization that he is being attacked –executed – and will not survive so many kids ganging up on him for revenge.

Toward the end, the kids will turn on one another (I’m a bit reminded of “Under Suspicion”). Marty gets treated the roughest by the law; the scene where the sheriff’s deputies comes to his home and draw gun is quite graphic. The kids are not at all like the plotters of “Julius Caesar” although maybe there is a faint comparison.

Sometimes the script has some funny lines, like one about how you learn alibis in driver’s ed. And here, Hollywood is in Florida, not California.

The DVD contains various interviews, and the director notes how difficult it is to cast characters in their late teens and early twenties today. That sounds surprising. I agree that Michael Pitt, as an actor, is particularly effective in understanding how “kids” are sometimes. In another DVD interview, the actors joke that they “slept with the director” [gay and straight] for the parts (yes, just joking). “Third time’s a charm.”

Note: The new films “Unstoppable” and “Sykline” are reviewed Nov. 13 and 14 on my “Films on major challenges to freedom” blog.

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