People acting badly being at the center of stories has been a staple of 21st century movies and TV shows. From Training Day to The Sopranos to Breaking Bad to Deadpool, the media landscape has been littered with antiheroes. Of course, there were examples of such characters long before the year 2000, but the uptick has been so significant that their appearance is no longer regarded as unusual.
Usually, though, a good-faith attempt is made at endearing the characters to the audience so that they’re more willing to go along when the characters start acting out. That’s a crucial component that’s missing in the new film Gully, which follows three friends — Jesse (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), Nicky (Charlie Plummer), and Calvin (Jacob Latimore) — who have all experienced some kind of trauma as youths. Now in their early 20s, they live mostly aimless lives, playing a Grand Theft Auto-type video game to pass much of their time.
The trauma has caused each to have a lot of pent-up anger, and — playing off each other — they collectively reach their breaking points, using any kind of excuse to wreak havoc on a number of people, pretending like real life is now the game. Most of the people they target, however, haven’t done anything other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time, making it impossible to empathize with the actions of the three friends.
Gully is an appropriate title for the film, because these characters are doing nothing but driving their lives into a ditch. Written by Marcus J. Guillory and directed by longtime music video director Nabil Elderkin, the film is told with little regard for nuance or comprehension. The filmmakers hint at the underlying reasons for these guys’ anger, but the reveals are perfunctory, yielding no insight into their individual mindsets. They may fancy themselves as making a modern-day A Clockwork Orange, but this film is nowhere near as stylish or complex as that classic.
Adding to the confusing nature of the storytelling is the presence of two well-known actors in prominent supporting roles that don't add much to the film as a whole. Jonathan Majors plays Greg, a recently paroled man looking for work, while Terrence Howard plays Mr. Christmas, a homeless man who rambles outside of the local convenience store. Each is returned to on multiple occasions, possibly as calmer counterpoints to the mayhem of the main trio, but the ultimate purpose each character serves never fully comes to light.
Harrison, Plummer, and Latimore have been lauded as some of the brightest up-and-coming actors, but this film doesn’t showcase them properly. The dial on their acting is almost constantly set to 11, giving them no chance at making their respective characters knowable. Aside from the previously mentioned Majors and Howard, John Corbett, Robin Givens, and Amber Heard play supporting characters who don’t get much to do but react to the insanity of three headliners.
If there is an ultimate point that Gully is trying to make, it gets lost among the video game aesthetics and faux wisdom dished out through much of the film. There’s no feeling sorry for or commiserating with characters who are hellbent on destroying their own lives, and those around them.
Gully is now playing in select theaters and on video on demand.