|Directed by||Larry Clark|
|Screenplay by||Zachary Long|
by Jim Schutze
|Produced by||Don Murphy|
|Edited by||Andrew Hafitz|
|Music by||Joe Poledouris|
|Distributed by||Lions Gate Films|
|Box office||$1.4 million|
Bully is a 2001 crime drama film directed by Larry Clark, and starring Brad Renfro, Bijou Phillips, Rachel Miner, Michael Pitt, Leo Fitzpatrick, Daniel Franzese, Kelli Garner, and Nick Stahl. Its plot follows a group of teenagers in South Florida who enact a murder plot against their mutual bully who has emotionally, physically, and sexually abused them for years.
The film is based on the murder of Bobby Kent, and its screenplay was adapted by David McKenna (under the pseudonym Zachary Long) and Roger Pullis from the book Bully: A True Story of High School Revenge by Jim Schutze. Filming took place in southern Florida in the summer of 2000.
Bully was given a limited release in the United States on July 13, 2001, and met with mixed critical responses, though many critics noted the film's disturbing handling of youth crime and murder.
South Florida high school dropouts Ali Willis and Lisa Connelly befriend Bobby Kent and Marty Puccio, employees at a local deli. The four go out on a double date. Later that evening, in Bobby's parked car, Ali performs oral sex on Bobby, while Lisa and Marty have sex in the back seat. Lisa later learns she is pregnant, but is afraid that the child is Bobby's instead of Marty's, since Bobby raped her after beating Marty unconscious.
Bobby emotionally and physically abuses Marty, who puts up with his violent tendencies. On one occasion, Bobby rapes Ali while trying to force her to watch gay pornography with him. Lisa later tells Marty that everyone suspects Bobby is attracted to him. Marty reveals to Lisa that the abuse has been going on since they were boys, starting with Marty taking drugs at an early age, which Marty thinks that Bobby has been using to take advantage of him. Marty and Bobby later go to a gay bar, where Marty is told to strip down to his underwear and dance for money, while Bobby takes pleasure in his humiliation.
Lisa eventually proposes that the group murder Bobby. Ali recruits her new boyfriend, the pot-smoking and acid-dropping Donny Semenec, and a troubled friend, Heather Swallers, who has recently been released from rehab; Lisa recruits her cousin, the shy and nerdy Derek Dzvirko. They initially plan to kill Bobby with a gun stolen from Lisa's mother. Ali and Lisa lure Bobby to the Everglades, the plan being that Lisa will shoot him while he has sex with Ali, but Lisa finds herself unable to do it. Realizing they need help, the group hire a supposed "hitman", Derek Kaufman, a friend of Ali's who is in actuality a tough-talking young man several years older than them.
With Kaufman's help, the group orchestrates a new plan: they drive with Bobby to the Everglades again, and Ali again lures Bobby to the bank of a canal with the promise of sex. Heather haphazardly gives a signal to Donny, who sneaks up behind Bobby and stabs him in the back of the neck. Horrified by the violence, Ali, Heather, and Dzvirko run back to Ali's car. Lisa watches as Marty and Donny repeatedly stab Bobby and slit his throat, before Kaufman bludgeons Bobby with a baseball bat. Kaufman forces Dzvirko to help carry the dying Bobby into the swamp, presuming alligators will consume the corpse.
Marty later realizes that he left the sheath to his diving knife at the canal. The group returns to retrieve the sheath and finds Bobby's corpse being devoured by crabs. Lisa, Dzvirko, Ali, and Heather do not believe they did anything wrong, since they did not directly participate in Bobby's actual death. Lisa decides to dispose of the knife, which is the only evidence linking them to the crime.
Unable to maintain the secret, Dzvirko and Lisa reveal to their other friends what they've done, while Ali phones in an anonymous tip to the media, alerting them to Bobby's death. Lisa calls Kaufman and speaks to his younger brother, who says that Kaufman has already been arrested for the murder. Eventually, all the teenagers turn themselves in, with the exception of Marty, who is subsequently arrested. Some time later, the group appear in court, wearing prison jumpsuits, with Lisa visibly pregnant by this time. Marty and Donny begin to argue, leading the others to join in as they each respectively deny their culpability in front of an onlooking courtroom.
Title cards reveal the convictions the perpetrators received in real life: Derek Kaufman, Donny Semenec, and Lisa Connelly received life sentences, Ali Willis received 40 years, Derek Dzvirko received 11 years, Heather Swallers received 7 years, and Marty Puccio was sentenced to death (The death penalty was vacated in 1997).
- Brad Renfro as Martin "Marty" Puccio
- Bijou Phillips as Ali Willis
- Rachel Miner as Lisa Connelly
- Nick Stahl as Bobby Kent
- Michael Pitt as Donny Semenec
- Leo Fitzpatrick as Derek Kaufman
- Kelli Garner as Heather Swallers
- Daniel Franzese as Derek Dzvirko
- Nathalie Paulding as Claudia
- Olivia Burnette as Jennifer Stable
- Jessica Sutta as Emma
- Ed Amatrudo as Fred Kent
- Deborah Smith Ford as Farah Kent
- Steven Raulerson as Mr. Willis
- Judith Clayton as Mrs. Willis
- Alan Lilly as Martin Puccio
- Irene B. Colletti as Veronica Puccio
- Marc Pearson as Marty's brother
The film is based on the July 14, 1993 murder of Bobby Kent at a remote area in Weston, Florida, south of Alligator Alley. Four of the convicted teens, known as the Broward County Seven, were released after serving brief prison terms. Only three are still serving prison sentences as of May, 2022. The book, Bully: A True Story of High School Revenge by Jim Schutze, was released in 1998. The film includes two title cards that reveal how several of the perpetrators appealed their sentences and the results of those actions.
The actual co-perpetrators of the murder were convicted and sentenced as follows:
- Martin Joseph "Marty" Puccio Jr. - First-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. Sentenced to death by electrocution on July 27, 1995; commuted to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 25 years on November 20, 1997. Currently incarcerated at the Desoto Annex in Arcadia, Florida.
- Heather June Swallers - Second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. Was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment on May 12, 1995; she received a lighter sentence than the others because, unlike Derek Dzvirko, she did not attempt to lie on the witness stand. Released February 14, 1998.
- Derek George Dzvirko - Second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. He was originally sentenced to seven years' imprisonment on May 12, 1995, but received four extra years for trying to lie on the witness stand. Released October 1, 1999.
- Alice Jean "Ali" Willis (aka Alice Jean Chapman, Alice Jean Slay) - Second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit second-degree murder. Sentenced to 40 years' imprisonment on May 19, 1995; reduced on appeal to 17 years for the murder charge and 15 years for the conspiracy charge. Released on Supervised Probation September 16, 2001 (the movie notes she will be under those probationary terms for 40 years). Currently residing in Belpre, Ohio. Probation set to terminate September 15, 2041.
- Donald Daniel "Donny" Semenec Jr. - Second-degree murder. Sentenced to life in prison on May 17, 1995. Two weeks after his conviction in the murder of Bobby Kent, Donny received another 14-month sentence for bringing drugs into jail and cocaine possession stemming from a 1994 case. Currently incarcerated at the Lake Correctional Institution in Clermont, Florida.
- Derek Leon Kaufman - First-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. Sentenced to life plus 30 years' imprisonment on June 12, 1995. On November 15, 1994, Kaufman received a 30-month sentence for trafficking in stolen property, stemming from a February 1993 case. As of August 2010[update], he is incarcerated at the Mayo Correctional Institution in Mayo, Florida.
- Lisa Marie Connelly - Second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. Sentenced to life plus five years' imprisonment on July 21, 1995; reduced on appeal to 22 years. Released on February 3, 2004. Lisa delivered her and Puccio's daughter in the Broward County Jail during her incarceration.
The film was originally slated to go into production in the mid-to-late '90s before the Columbine school shootings, but financiers backed away in the wake of the events. Screenwriter David McKenna said that the Columbine shootings, along with other high-school gun-related tragedies at the time, were justification for the script, commenting, "It's time that we woke up to the way many of our kids are living."
Several drafts of the screenplay had been written, all of which were turned down by Larry Clark in favor of filming scenes straight from Schutze’s book, which featured real court testimonies and first-hand accounts of the murder. Clark said an early screenplay draft removed any homosexual subtext, particularly the implication Bobby is gay and closeted, but Clark tried to put it back in.
Before Brad Renfro was cast as Marty, Jake Gyllenhaal and Ashton Kutcher were considered for the role. Clark sought Nick Stahl for the role of Bobby, though Stahl initially thought he was not right for the role, saying, "If you drew the polar opposite of who I was at that time, it would probably be Bobby Kent. I mean, I was rail thin. I’d worked out twice before the movie started, so clearly it wasn’t any kind of physicality that intrigued Larry." Though Lions Gate Films thought the roles of Bobby and Marty were miscast, Clark embraced the casting of Renfro and Stahl in their respective roles because he wanted to subvert audience expectations of what a bully looks like. Casting director Carmen Cuba said, "The idea of who is a bully and who gets bullied — in this case, it felt unusual to make the choice this way, but that made it more interesting and more layered."
Zooey Deschanel was originally set to play Ali Willis, but ended up doing another film that was also shooting in Florida at the time. Jared Leto was also considered for the role of Derek Kaufman before Leo Fitzpatrick, who had previously worked with Clark on Kids, was cast. Daniel Franzese had no prior screen credits and was scouted by Cuba while singing at a talent show night at a Florida bar.
Clark said that the casting of Bijou Phillips helped the film get green-lit, saying, "She hadn't acted, but that name - because she was in the paper every day for being a club kid…that name got us the money to get financed."
Principal photography of Bully began August 21, 2000, in southern Florida. Filming took place at many of the locations where the real-life incidents occurred. The crew was originally given 40 days to complete filming, but this was reduced to 23 days due to budgetary restrictions from Lions Gate. The shoot was said to be "chaotic" due to a "compressed production schedule, tempestuous weather conditions, and behind-the-scenes drama."
The plainclothes officer who arrests Marty is Frank Ilarraza, a police detective who arrested the real Marty Puccio in 1993. Several production assistants on the film had attended high school with the actual perpetrators.
Bully was originally slated for a wide theatrical release, but these plans were derailed due to executive changes at Lions Gate three weeks before release. Clark had sought an R rating for the film, but the MPAA ruled in favor of an NC-17. Clark chose to release the film unrated, and it opened on July 13, 2001 to a total of six theaters, later expanding to 20 theaters at its widest.
Screenwriter David McKenna was unhappy with the finished film and chose to be credited under the pseudonym "Zachary Long". Jim Schutze, the author of the book the film is based on, also disowned the film.
The film was released in DVD on January 29, 2002.
Bully received mixed reviews from critics. It has an approval rating of 54% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 90 reviews with an average score of 5.80 out of 10. The website's critical consensus states: "With its lingering shots of naked teenage bodies, Bully feels more sordidly exploitative than realistic." The film holds a score of 45 out of 100 on Metacritic, based on 26 critics indicating 'Mixed or average reviews'.
Criticism of the film largely focused on the prolonged scenes of graphic sex and nudity, particularly of its female cast, which critics called "gratuitous", "voyeuristic," and "prurient." Dennis Harvey of Variety wrote while the film "certainly does sport believe-it-or-not black-comedy aspects, some of which Clark grasps — as in [a] late courtroom scene", it "seems convinced that staring agog at the banalities of affluent suburbia constitutes a scorching critique". Harvey claimed the film was hypocritical because "Clark wags a shaming finger [at the audience] on one hand while the other frantically keeps titillation value at full tumescence".
Critics were also divided about the intent and messaging of the film. Manohla Dargis of LA Weekly praised how Clark "catches, the way Warhol once did, the bottomed-out timelessness of too many hours spent hanging out, but since Clark is also a rigorous (and here, at least, rigid) moralist, he also puts the screws to the audience. He does it by refusing to offer up an ounce of psychological depth or rationale. He shows us a group of kids who murder then declines to really tell us why." In contrast, Rene Rodriguez of the Miami Herald said, "What Bully doesn't do -- what it can't do -- is explain how these otherwise sane kids went from merely talking about killing someone to actually doing it…Clark shies away from embellishing the story told in Schutze's book, which means that while the movie gets the facts right, it misses the inner life of its protagonists. The kids are all surface, with nothing underneath." Rodriguez added, "Although the performances are strong…the film keeps its distance, and that detachment has led some to dismiss Bully as a pointless wallow in degradation and exploitation".
Marjorie Baumgarten of The Austin Chronicle said, "The film's naked plenitude (and pulchritude) casts suspicion on Clark's ulterior reasons for making the movie -- especially in light of the fact that Bully doesn't seem to have an overall point of view that it's trying to push. There are no heroes or victims, and everyone is at least a minor villain. Clark's film is disturbing not only for what it shows, but how it shows it. If it weren't so rivetingly realistic, it would be an easy film to dismiss. And if it weren't so easily dismissible, it would be an easy film to defend."
David E. Williams of Film Threat described the film as "simply a borderline porno flick that only becomes a real movie in its third act" and critiqued the inconsistency of its character development; however, he praised the performances of Fitzpatrick, Pitt, and Garner. James Mottram of Sight & Sound said compared to Clark's film Kids, "the vérité visual style is missing". Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times said Clark "brings alive so compellingly the aimless, brutal existence" of these teenagers, but "whatever aspirations he may have had in attempting to make a movie of the level of Jonathan Kaplan’s 'Over the Edge' or Tim Hunter’s 'River’s Edge,' two classic studies of lethally disaffected suburban youth", are undercut by the film's lingering on sex and nudity. Thomas added, "Clark demands the utmost of Renfro, Miner and Stahl...[they] respond by daringly walking a tightrope between a craziness that escalates to a dark absurdity and an all-out ludicrousness. Renfro comes across as a good kid neither strong nor smart enough to resist Lisa and Bobby’s relentlessly destructive personalities".
Roger Ebert was one of the film's notable admirers and gave the film four out of four stars. In his review, he stated: "Larry Clark's Bully calls the bluff of movies that pretend to be about murder but are really about entertainment. His film has all the sadness and shabbiness, all the mess and cruelty and thoughtless stupidity of the real thing...The movie is brilliantly and courageously well-acted by its young cast; it's one of those movies so perceptive and wounding that there's no place for the actors to hide, no cop out they can exercise."
Ebert added, "Clark is obviously obsessed by the culture of floating, unplugged teenagers. Sometimes his camera seems too willing to watch during the scenes of nudity and sex, and there is one particular shot that seems shameless in its voyeurism...But it's this very drive that fuels his films. If the director doesn't have a strong personal feeling about material like this, he shouldn't be making movies about it...I believe Bully is a masterpiece on its own terms, a frightening indictment of a society that offers absolutely nothing to some of its children—and an indictment of the children, who lack the imagination and courage to try to escape. Bobby and his killers deserve one another."
|Prism Awards||PRISM Certificate of Merit for Theatrical Feature Film||Bully||Won|
|Venice Film Festival||Golden Lion||Nominated|
|Stockholm Film Festival||Best Actress||Rachel Miner||Won|
|Bronze Horse||Larry Clark||Won|
|Bully: Music from the Larry Clark Film|
|Soundtrack album by |
|Released||October 2, 2001|
|Genre||Hip hop, rock, electronic|
The soundtrack was released on October 2, 2001 by OCF Entertainment. Other songs that appear in the film include "Forgot About Dre" by Dr. Dre feat. Eminem, "Excess" by Tricky, and "When the Shit Goes Down" by Cypress Hill.
- "Intro - Kill the Bully" – Thurston Moore
- "Thug Ass Bitch" – Ghetto Inmates
- "Last Call" – Ol' Dirty Bastard
- "Bottom Feeders" – Smut Peddlers feat. R.A. the Rugged Man
- "Suicidal Failure" – Cage
- "Blood on My Shirt" – Thurston Moore
- "Who Dat" – JT Money feat. Solé
- "Joyride" – Bomber
- "We About to Get F**k Up" – Tha Dogg Pound
- "Shut the F**k up Donny" – Thurston Moore
- "Latin Thug" – Sen Dog
- "Bury the Evidence" – Tricky
- "Jesus" – Bizzy Bone
- "Unloved" – Zoe Poledouris
- "Song for Shelter" – Fatboy Slim
- "Outro - Get Your Story Together" – Thurston Moore
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- "'Kids' Director Larry Clark Goes Way Off Script In Insane, NSFW Bret Easton Ellis Podcast". theplaylist.net. October 28, 2016. Retrieved February 5, 2022.
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- Axmaker, Sean (July 20, 2001). "'Bully': A pedophile's daydream". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Archived from the original on July 26, 2001. Retrieved May 7, 2023.
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- Edelstein, David (July 14, 2001). "Crash of the Titans". Slate. ISSN 1091-2339. Retrieved April 29, 2023.
- Dargis, Manohla. "Bully". LA Weekly. Archived from the original on July 28, 2001. Retrieved May 7, 2023.
- Rodriguez, Rene (July 20, 2001). "A grim look at ordinary kids, an extraordinary crime". Miami Herald. Archived from the original on January 24, 2002. Retrieved May 7, 2023.
- Baumgarten, Marjorie (July 27, 2001). "Bully". The Austin Chronicle. Retrieved May 7, 2023.
- Thomas, Kevin (July 13, 2001). "Bleak and Brutal Teen Rage in Larry Clark's 'Bully". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on March 7, 2023. Retrieved April 29, 2023.
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- Ebert, Roger (December 28, 2001). "Defending Bully". Slate. ISSN 1091-2339. Retrieved April 29, 2023.
- "2002 Prism Awards". prismawards.com. Archived from the original on October 5, 2002.
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- "Clark's Bully wins Stockholm's Bronze Horse". Screen Daily. November 19, 2001. Retrieved April 29, 2023.
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