The Bang Bang Club, 2010.
Directed by Steven Silver.
Starring Ryan Phillippe, Malin Akerman, Taylor Kitsch, Frank Rautenbach, Neels Van Jaarsveld and Ashley Mulheron.
Four combat photographers in the early 1990s capture the atrocities of apartheid in South Africa on camera whilst risking their lives to get the all-important shots to show the world the horrors committed at that turbulent time.
Based on the book The Bang-Bang Club: Snapshots from a Hidden War, the film boasts an impressive cast including Ryan Phillippe and Malin Ackerman and, although the South African accents sometimes wobble, the performances are credible from all involved. It was filmed on location in Johannesburg, and looks great for what is evidently a small budget production. The film pulls no punches in depicting the brutality of the situations the photographers found themselves in and the danger they must have felt every day on the job; it is a credit to director Steven Silver to show these nasty scenes in a tasteful way, and never glorifying the acts. There is one scene where Greg Marinovich (Phillippe) watches a gang beat, stab, and set fire to a man. Marinovich was a witness to a murder and his photographs were evidence; but the images in his head will never go away. The picture he took as a machete comes down on the head of the burning man won him the Pulitzer Prize.
What doesn’t work so well are the scenes in between, when the men aren’t taking their photographs. The script doesn’t flesh out the characters to the extent they surely could have been; it would have been great to get an insight into their thoughts and feeling on the wars they’ve covered and the experiences they’ve had, but mostly the scenes away from the conflicts serve as time fillers before the next set of outbreak of violence. The film is gripping and interesting when it wants to be, but it does suffer from not being about anything in particular. It doesn’t tell us enough about the photographers so that it works as a biopic; it doesn’t tell us enough about the conflict to serves as a comment on recent history; and the lack of a storyline may well work in the contexts of the book, but on film there needs to be a some sort of story arc to give the picture some life and meaning, but sadly it lacks this.
That is not to say The Bang Bang Club isn’t a decent film, because it is. The scenes involving the photography and conflict are handled well and make up for the void left in others; men like Marinovich have lived a life full of experiences that most people watching the film will never go through, and most probably would never want to for the fear of not living to tell about it. He did, and his courage and talent deserves to be told on film.