Review: The Bang Bang Club
PLOT: Four South Africans photojournalists cover the final, bloody years of apartheid. They become known as daredevil photographers, and are dubbed “The Bang Bang Club” by the foreign press. Despite their fame, and rock n’ roll lifestyle, all four become scarred by the horror of war, and suffer the ethical dilemmas of their trade. Based on a true story.
REVIEW: THE BANG BANG CLUB is a film I have a special interest in. When not writing for JoBlo, I have two day jobs in Montreal, one of them being as a freelance photojournalist for a newspaper in town, which is the trade I studied in University. In my ‘ethics of journalism’ class, one of the most contentious debates we had involved a photograph by one of the men profiled in the film. The photo in question was of a young Sundanese toddler, who was starving to death only steps from a UN feeding station, while being stalked by a vulture.
The photograph, which won a Pulitzer Prize for its photographer, Kevin Carter (played here by Taylor Kitsch), divided people, especially when it was discover that Carter, after taking the photo, moved on and did not help the girl, or inquire as to what happened to her. The photograph is a key plot point in the film, and Carter is not presented as a cold-blooded character. Rather, as portrayed by Kitsch, he’s someone who’s photographed so many atrocities, and been so overwhelmed by the terror that he’s seen, that one more photo and one more death just didn’t mean all that much to him. As a photographer, he did his job- he took the photo. As a man, well- that’s the question at the heart of THE BANG BANG CLUB.
In a bit of a frustrating turn, Carter, a fascinating, tragic character, well played by Kitsch (which bodes well for his trio of 2012 tentpole films: JOHN CARTER OF MARS, BATTLESHIP and the incredible-sound SAVAGES), is not the focus of THE BANG BANG CLUB. Rather, Greg Marinovich, as played by Ryan Phillipe, is the star of the show. Marinovich’s story is indeed interesting, but I couldn’t help but feel focusing on him is a minor misstep.
However, this isn’t really that major a flaw, as it’s still a damn interesting story, and Phillipe gets his best role in years, although his South African accent comes and goes (while Kitsch’s never fades). He’s probably the more romantic figure than Carter, with him entering THE BANG BANG CLUB as a talented amateur, and working his way up to a Pulitzer Prize, while romancing his beautiful photo editor (played by Malin Akerman, as a brunette, who’s accent also comes and goes, but is nonetheless quite good).
THE BANG BANG CLUB is directed by Steven Silver, himself a South African, and his restaging of the bloody battles leading up to the end of Apartheid are very impressive indeed. Something tells me BANG BANG cost a lot to make, with this having a pretty epic scope, and it’s good to see that a large-canvas, important story like this can still get the big-screen treatment it deserves.
The club themselves are a fascinating bunch, with them being confessed adrenaline junkies, less interested in politics, and more in getting the perfect photo. But are they exploiting the bloodshed, or informing people, as is their job? This question is never really answered in the film, with the characters themselves not really seeming to know the answer. Such is life I suppose, as journalism’s a profession that often exists with it’s feet firmly planted in the grey area, and where the ethics of what’s right ands what’s wrong not always being clear. To its credit, the film does not white-wash the four men, which might have happened if this had been more mainstream fare.
THE BANG BANG CLUB is a very worthwhile film to check out if it happens to be open in your area. While it sadly seems to be going under-the-radar, like several other intriguing tales of Apartheid (CATCH A FIRE, and the brilliant STANDER being two that stand out). It’s definitely something worth seeking out, and a must-see if you have any interest in the ethics of modern reporting.