Gully is the worst type of bad movie: Aimless, shapeless, ugly, and gratuitous. The movie has an idea of what kind of story it wants to tell and does almost nothing with it and takes on tricky subject matter without much commitment. It’s a shame given the rising talent involved, especially in front of the camera, but Gully winds up ending without many redeeming qualities.
Director Nabil Elderkin makes his feature debut here, after a decade-plus career of directing music videos for artists like John Legend, Kayne West, Frank Ocean and Kendrick Lamar (he is credited as Nabil in the music video world). It’s often obvious when a filmmaker crosses over from music videos to features because there always seems to be a stronger emphasis on the style of the picture, while sacrificing the substance. Elderkin captures the palm tree-lined and sun-soaked streets of Los Angeles beautifully, but none of that matters when an empty story is swirling around it.
The biggest disappointment about Gully is its terrific cast, who are forced to serve a ponderous screenplay by Marcus J. Guillory (also making a feature writing debut). Jesse (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), Calvin (Jacob Latimore) and Nicky (Charlie Plummer) are all close friends, who grew up in troubled circumstances, which have continued to follow them into their young adulthood. They decide to wreak havoc around L.A., without much care for those they hurt and whoever and whatever may stand in their way. Amber Heard, John Corbett, Terrence Howard and Jonathan Majors round out the supporting cast.
The main trio of actors are good and have a lived-in rapport with each other, but Gully will ultimately be an asterisk in their rising careers. The movie premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2019 and is just making its way out and each actor has done far more interesting work. Plummer led the gorgeous and somber Lean On Pete, giving an internalized and quiet performance that spoke volumes about the character’s odyssey. Harrison Jr. starred in the Sundance movie Luce, giving a multi-layered performance, which was worthy of so many more accolades than he received, if people had given that excellent movie the attention it deserved.
Gully tries to tell the story of cyclical violence and how it affects people who grow up around it. It’s an interesting topic that has been explored before and could have been effective here, if Elderkin wasn’t so focused on making a hyper-stylized version of this story. When the characters walk the streets of L.A., their random acts of violence are often portrayed as if we are watching a video game unfold. There will always be a cultural discussion about the affect of violent video games on young people and it’s unfortunate the movie decides to go this route and feed into the narrative that entertainment can convince people to act violently. Gully dips its foot in the conversation with fear of committing to having a discussion.
Everyone involved will venture into bigger and better projects (and certainly already have), so it’s best to leave Gully on the rearview.