Film Review: Bomb City

Teenage rivalries escalate into searing violence in this powerful, fact-based drama about class, money and identity run amok in 1990s Amarillo, Texas.
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Unemployed, working-class Brian Deneke (Dave Davis) lives in a garage with his friends, who also create art projects—notably a series of radically altered freestanding road signs converted into colorful observations about life and social expectations—and look to punk music and style as a vehicle to express and act out their roiling frustration with life, the universe and everything.

Their nemeses are the preps, upper-middle-class and wealthy kids, equally restless and impulsive, albeit with far better financial prospects, nicer cars and more conventional outlets for their hormonal volatility, notably football—Amarillo is all about the Friday night lights and Cody Cates (in real life, a kid named Luke Shelton) is a particularly volatile member of the team. Clashes are inevitable and testosterone-charged and, viewers know early on, headed for a lethal confrontation, especially with some serious drinking added to the mix. The film cuts back and forth between a trial and the events that led up to it, and carefully doles out information about both the dynamics of each clique and the extent of the damage done.

It's pretty clear where the filmmakers' sympathies lie (Deneke adopts an adorable puppy with his girlfriend), and it's also hard to deny that while organized sports—notably football—are widely touted as an acceptable and self-regulating outlet for violent impulses, they can also stoke them—particularly combined with the tribalism that comes naturally to teenagers riding out adolescence and adults reliving theirs. Or, for that matter, that living a punk lifestyle demands being a living provocation and some people take being provoked less well than others.

First-time feature director Jameson Brooks and co-writer Sheldon R. Chick (also one of the film's producers and composers, making his feature debut) keep the fact-based Bomb City rooted in a specific time and place, but its underlying dynamics are universal: Teenagers on the cusp of adulthood are driven to find a way to stand out while blending in; they want to be themselves but seek the company of people like themselves, however "us" and "them" are defined.

Even the title is less blunt than it seems—since the 1940s, Amarillo has been home to the Pantex Plant, which assembles and disassembles military weapons (these days, nuclear), hence the nickname—and yes, the real-life Deneke did adopt that puppy, as a photo montage at the film's conclusion shows.

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