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Bully

Larry Clark

Visionary or voyeur? Since his breakthrough work as a stills photographer in the early ’70s, Larry Clark has won acclaim for the fearless intimacy with which he documents wasted American youth, at the same time provoking criticism that his explicit images of sexuality and drug use exploit his young subjects. Kids, Clark’s first feature film in 1995, certainly polarised opinion along these lines, and the debate is likely to continue with this latest offering, a characteristically forthright treatment of a notorious 1993 killing in Hollywood, Florida. Bobby Kent (Nick Stahl of In The Bedroom) died from multiple stabbings at the hands of Marty Puccio (Brad Renfro), who snapped after years of humiliation by his manipulative ‘best friend’. Egging him on and participating in the final messy deed were a whole gang of teenagers, including Marty’s domineering girlfriend Lisa (Rachel Miner) plus sundry dope-addled and delusional friends and acquaintances.
Clark makes troublingly clear the shocking lack of conscience with which these young people moved from merely disliking the admittedly arrogant Kent to planning and carrying out a fairly shambolic murder. Although its spaced-out dialogue sometimes flirts with self-parody, the film builds to a properly appalled portrait of a generation drifting through a haze of easy drugs and easier sex, utterly devoid of any moral foundation. As a filmmaker Clark is developing in confidence, helped immeasurably by a string of fine performances (notably the much put-upon Renfro and the worryingly calculating Miner). More problematic is the way his camera pores over their naked bodies and substance abuse as if energised by their youthful indiscretions. Squaring this with the film’s serious import isn’t altogether straightforward, but that’s Larry Clark for you.o.
U.S.A., 2001. Colour. Dolby digital stereo. 110 mins.

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