While this low-key thriller is strikingly well shot and acted, it never seems like it digs very far beneath the surface. So while we're intrigued by its twisty plot, we can't quite figure out what the point is or why we should care. Still, director Chun shows real skill at capturing a rural community while keeping the mood dark and nasty.
At a sleazy roadside motel, manager Chloe (Eve) is saving up the cash kickbacks she gets from the prostitutes who use the rooms. She's determined to move somewhere nicer with her young daughter Sophia (Parker), and now this is becoming urgent since social services is threatening to take Sophia into care if they don't move soon. Then things get complicated when the nearly blind thug Topo (Cranston) arrives. Separated from his assistant, he forces Chloe to help him recover the package he's meant to deliver. But that's been stolen by the hotheaded young cop Billy (Marshall-Green), who has a twisted past with Chloe. Which is why Billy's wife (Cummings) is furious that she's now coming round the house.
All of this takes place in a small town not far from the US-Canada border, where the autumn chill is beginning to bite. The film captures a terrific sense of isolation in this place, where everyone knows everyone else's business but pretends not to care. Eve gives Chloe a surprising tenacity as she bravely deals with Topo's demands, hoping maybe she'll get something out of it. Well, she has nothing to lose, and everyone seems to underestimate her desperation.
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Chloe is a financially unstable owner of a motel whose life is made all the more difficult by child protection services threatening to take her daughter Sophia away from her if she cannot relocate her to a safer residence. One day, when she hears a disturbance from one guest room, her world gets even more complicated when she discovers a dead body and bag full of cash. However, when the money goes missing, she and Sophia are held hostage by a partially sighted but dangerous Russian gangster who threatens to shoot Sophia if Chloe cannot help him retrieve the loot, which he believes has been stolen by a corrupted police officer. Now Chloe, who's been working in vain to care for her daughter to the best of her ability, faces the ultimate test of motherhood.
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A slam-dunk natural subject for Clark, Bully follows the based-on-reality story of Marty Puccio (Brad Renfro), who along with his girlfriend Lisa (Rachel Miner) decides to brutally slay his "best friend" Bobby (Nick Stahl) as payback for a lifetime of abuse. Set in the ultra-trashy nether regions of southern Florida -- and I mean seriously, beyond-WWF trashy -- there's little to do but drive your car, play video games, have sex, and beat the crap out of your friends.
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Aside from Solondz's decidedly risky topics, his format in Storytelling takes chances. It presents two separate shorts, entitled "Fiction" and "Non-fiction," with no obvious connection between the two. The only true thread is that both comment on the telling of tales, the shifting of points of view, and the way most people in Solondz's suburban landscapes constantly paddle their painful lives upstream.
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A troubling vérité-style docudrama about worthless, contemptible, murderous teenage losers, "Bully" is a raw and graphic, half cautionary tale, half exploitation flick, similar to director Larry Clark's controversial 1995 film "Kids."
But as infamous as "Kids" was for its grossly candid depiction of drug use and careless, even vengeful sex, it was largely fictional. "Bully" isn't quite as coarse, but may be more chilling as it is based on true events: The circumstances surrounding the very premeditated but very sloppy slaying of a malevolent south Florida delinquent who physically intimidated and verbally abused his friends until, well, they killed him.
Fascinating in a "Cops"-meets-Psychology Today, can't-help-but-look kind of way, every character in this film is a vile imbecile -- the kind of nitwits who genuinely look to angry white rapper Eminem as a role model.
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