The story - the kids doing drugs and other crappy stuff is not that good. "Kids", by the same director, does this part a whole lot better. The music is a plus, or more like a trip down the memory lane for me. I like that. OK, with some really nice touches but also a pretty poor film overall.
5.5 out of 10 cool kids.
As viewers learned from Kids, Larry Clark has no fear with approaching edgy material. However, one key difference between Kids and Bully is the fact that Bully is inspired by a real life murder and therefore has more of a narrative to it. Unfortunately, Bully ends up retreading old ground without really making its tale an interesting one.
While Kids was a shocking depiction of the activities that contemporary youth crowds are involving themselves in, Bully fails to make the same kind of effect. Part of that is because people are expecting it, part of it is because there is more narrative in the film this time than there is characters. The problem is that the narrative in Bully is uninvolving and so it ends up feeling scattered in the same manner of Kids but without the same brutal impact. While it could have been a complex depiction of the murder of Bobby Kent and the beginning of the film really expresses the kind of hazard that he was as a person which goes on to depict how his associates found murdering him to be the only option. After a while, it goes into repetitive and shallow territory where an abundance of characters enter the film and the brutality becomes a routine for the viewer. Due to Larry Clark relying on the reality of the story to be the source of the drama, he repeats his directorial style of depicting things in a realistic manner, and this prevents him from going as far as really dramatizing things. Considering that Bully is not just a film about crime but about the characters who are involved, it has more of a complicated basis than Kids and should logically stand up higher in quality. Unfortunately, despite a sporadic collection of tense moments in the film, Bully fails to make much of an impact in the end. It starts out with promise but soon detiriorates into repetitive and familiar territory which both fails to really grasp the viewer due to its emotional distance from the situation as well as moving so slowly that the entertainment value is severly limited. The problem is simply that there is an overall feeling of emptiness in Bully. Larry Clark seems to approach the material simply with the intenion of recreating it, and in all fairness he does stage it well with a decent visual style to go with it. But the problem is that it really fails to be entertaining. For a film about a complicated murder and the sadistic nature of some people, Bully is surprisingly uninvolving. It is shallow, going in circles and failing to really capture the harsh nature of murder. While the depiction of youth violence is confronting and the rape in the film is shocking, the murder itself is rather tame and weak which is strange. Perhaps that is partially because the contemporary age of cinema trivialises death so often, but the fact that Bully puts all the emphasis on the way that the story revolves around a singluar murder and the nature of the participants means that it should really strike the viewer on some level. It just doesn't work, and once the shock and awe of the rape and assult wears off, viewers are left to wait around while the characters make small talk with the basic script of the film and fail to deliver any insight. While there are so many characters in Bully, none of them are really meaningful in any sensible manner and so there is little insight provided into any of them, and considering that the murder of Bobby Kent is depicted as being a reaction to an ongoing series of physical and emotional abuse committed by him against many other people, there was potential for Bully to be a really complicated film. Unfortunately, it fails to grasp the dark nature of its story or repeat the same effect laid down by Kids. Bully will always suffer by comparison to Kids because it does not grasp the same energetic style and originality, and while Larry Clark is not scared of going into edgy terrain as a director, he fails to succeed at bringing life into Bully. You would think that he is the ideal director for the film, but that is simply not the case. He maintains his visionary attributes with all the relentless violence and nudity still holding a place in the film, but it just isn't as powerful this time around. The entire affair feels tired and the gimmick wears off really soon. The only thing that really seems to work on any sort of consistent basis is the cast, even though they all take on characters who are reduced to very simple figures for the film.
Nick Stahl's performance in Bully is powerful. Serving as the sadistic Bobby Kent and the titular Bully, Nick Stahl takes on a role which is unexpected but most welcome. He is mercilessly aggressive towards the other characters to the point that even the viewer may feel a certain sense of intimidation from it all. He really makes a powerful impact even if his screen time is limited in the film.
Brad Renfro also does a notably good job. The former child actor steps up to the plate for raw material in Bully, and he is able to handle it really well. He shares a tense chemistry with Nick Stahl and is able to make himself an interesting presence most of the time. Bijou Phillips and Rachel Miner also contribute their part.
But despite some effective work from the cast, Bully suffers from a lack of emotional involvement which holds back the potential for the film to be striking and it suffers in comparison to director Larry Clark's previous effort on Kids which Bully seem like a tired retread of old ground.