I assure you that this isn’t a review for an adult film, although I am willing to bet that there is one out there with this exact title. While I am sure that the acting is earnest in the adult film, The Bang Bang Club carries a lot of emotional weight with the adaptation of the auto-biographical book of the same name. Some may not be familiar with the group of photographers who were entrenched in South Africa, just before the fall of the apartheid, but you might be familiar with their prize winning photographs, namely this Pulitzer Prize photo shot by Kevin Carter. This tells the story of the photography group who shocked the world with their photos and stories.
The Bang Bang Club is the true story of four young combat photographers bonded by friendship and their sense of purpose to tell the truth. They risk their lives and use their cameras to tell the world of the violence associated with the first free elections in post-Apartheid South Africa. Ryan Phillippe, Malin Akerman and Taylor Kitsch star in a film that explores the thrills, danger, and moral questions associated with exposing the truth. — (C) tribeca
Steven Silver takes his documentary background and gives us a film that is highly stylized and almost documentary in nature. Stark and shocking, Silver was able to recreate the events in the book with impeccable realism, often too graphic in nature, of the atrocities of the conflicts between parties in South Africa before the fall of the apartheid. This is where the strength of the film lies, the visual aesthetic that is meant to get us shocked and shaken as we watch almost first hand accounts of death, murder, famine and anguish that the photographers documented on a daily basis. It hits you right where it’s meant to hit with the emotional weight of those one the screen just trying to survive the conflict. The visuals are meant to offer us the moral quandary of a maze, one where we can’t escape the violence and anguish that is on full display. We aren’t meant to understand what is happening other than it is just the way things were there and we can’t understand the motives.
The Bang Bang Club is moving film, but is slightly undercut with a lot of unnecessary side plots and some Hollywood influences that detract from the effect of the film. The love story between Phillippe and Akerman is nice, but is played up a lot more than it should be. It kind of takes you out of the element you are just being inundated with violent images and compelling scenes. They aren’t bad, it’s just that the director wanted to explore stories when the focus should have been on the photographer and their work. The acting from Kitsch and Phillippe is very good, moving from scene to scene and capturing horrors on film starts to take their toll on them. It is compelling and noticeable in the change of mood and mentality, particularly from Kitsch as the atrocities of conflict start to eat away at his conscience and mind. The young ideals of the photographers wanting to do good is challenged when their photos seem exploitative.
I can’t recommend this film enough to people. The film has its shortcomings in terms of overuse of style and polish that eliminates the gritty feel of the conflict torn South Africa. Silver went a little overboard with the visuals, but there is still a lot of impact to be had from the documentary feel of the battles and deaths in the movie. Kitsch and Phillippe do an amazing job at recreating fear and terror as they shot the conflict through the lens, adding to the chaotic nature that swept the pre-apartheid country. This captures perfectly, the struggles that the photographers went through as they battled with the idea of being profiteers off the suffering of others. It might get you to think more about the nature of war time photographers, but the idea isn’t explored fully, so you are left to draw your own ideas and conclusions.
*images via RottenTomatoes