“The Bang Bang Club” is the real life story of four photojournalists who captured the horrific civil unrest and brutal violence during the end of South Africa’s apartheid in the early 90s. Films about war time violence aren’t new, but with the current events in the Middle East, and specifically the recent tragic death of photojournalist and “Restrepo” director Tim Hetherington, this movie ventures to let us feel what it’s like to be on these front lines.
Ryan Phillippe portrays Marinovich, the newest addition to the photog team, who seems intent on providing the public with all sides of the story. Marinovich runs into unchartered territory, and manages to capture a part of the war that is rarely seen within news coverage, scoring himself covers of magazines and batches of prizes. Taylor Kitsch stars opposite as Kevin Carter, a celebrated photog who is battling a drug addiction and depression after years of frontline interaction. South African actors Frank Rautenbach and Neels Van Jaarsveld play Ken Oosterbroek and Joao Silva, while Malin Akerman is oddly cast as the group’s photo editor Robin Cromley.
After winning the coveted Pulitzer for taking a photograph of a dying, starving young Sudanese girl being cornered by a vulture, Carter falls into a downward spiral. We can see that this life and career is beginning to eat away at him and yet director Scott Silver just brushes the surface of where he could have taken these characters. The shots are spectacular and the violence feels eerily real — it’s a heavy film, not thanks to any character development, but because of its subject matter. This story is less than twenty years old, and the affect of apartheid and the people’s liberation from it can still be seen and felt. Being within this time and place, even if just as a spectator, would have to affect you to your core, and if given the chance to delve into it, these actors really would have been able to achieve something great.
Silver clearly wants the viewer to grasp the importance of wartime coverage, but avoids diving into what draws journalists to this type of work. There are a few comments on the need for this type of coverage from our protagonists, but we never truly get to why they are really there. While the intent is evident, the actors are given little within the development of the script to make us understand why they work together cohesively and what is their interest in capturing this type of human despair. Phillippe and Kitsch are strong throughout the drama, and its nice to see both actors flex more than just matinee idol style smiles. If given more meat to work with, both performances could have been even more compelling. Akerman does well with what she is given, which is very little, but Silver muddies up what could be an affecting storyline with distractions of romance, sex and a bizarre “swimming in a reservoir” scene.
These journalists are on the front lines and in the trenches. Their lives are at stake and without their bravery we would have no idea as to what it looks and feels like to be within these types of conflicts. “The Bang Bang Club” means well, has solid performances, but is never able to successfully inform its viewers as to why these four, or anyone for that matter, would be willing to throw themselves into the line of fire. Silver was given a great deal to work with, in both content (the film is based on the book of the same name by two of the members of “club,” Greg Marinovich and Joao Silva) and talent, but it unfortunately does not come across on the big screen. Given the recent events in Libya and Egypt, it would be great to get inside the head of the brave folks who make sure to capture the events as they evolve on video or film, but “The Bang Bang Club” fails at showcasing the sacrifices that a journalist would need to make to pursue their profession. While the true story is both an inspiring and tragic tale of four photojournalists dedicated to bringing reporting from the most dangerous places in the world, it’s too bad the film never truly explores just who those people are behind the camera. [B-]