Published May 05, 2011Two minutes in and I need a drink, in a bad, anaesthetic way. There's something desperate about this need. Hard liquor exists for a reason, and the reason is films like this. That's not to say The Bang Bang Club is bad, but rather it's a fair historical document of all too recent history. The passion is there. The inhumanity of humans is there. The details are ragged. Scattershot moments of the horrors of war are present, but mostly this film (directed by Steven Silver) punches you in the face with complex themes told carelessly like an anecdote. But considering the recent deaths of two war photographers in Libya, this film couldn't have been released at a more relevant time.
Based on true events, and the book by Greg Marinovich, The Bang Bang Club tells the story of the eponymous group of war photographers (Greg Marinovich, Kevin Carter, James Natchwey, Ken Oosterbroek) in Soweto, four years before the fall of apartheid. Ryan Phillipe plays Marinovich, a young, rookie photog who joins forces with the seasoned pros to form the infamous group, which would go to any lengths to tell the story of South Africa visually, claiming to do the job "because it's dangerous."
Most often braver than the riot police, entering conflict areas and strongholds, their photos went viral around the world before there was an internet, earning each of them, at different times, the Pulitzer. By now, the majority of us have seen that infamous photo of the starving girl in Sudan, crouched in the sand, being stalked by a ravenous vulture. Guess who took the photo?
Their efforts come not without controversy. Accused of telling the black man's story through the white man's lens, the "Club" struggles with their own demons and the inhumanity they witness. They even admit their job is "to sit there and watch people die." As the fall of apartheid approaches, the conscious and collectiveness of their troupe fall into disrepair.
The first act is loaded with the intensity of each high-stakes situation without being didactic. But as the third act draws to a close, there is a jovial sense of brotherhood and camaraderie in scenes where gunfire and death are all around them, which lands on the wrong side of cavalier, being almost dismissive.
Canadian actress Malin Akerman plays Robin Comely, the photo editor at the local newspaper whose love story with Marinovich is charming, in a sick way. Akerman and Phillipe both have energy, but its Phillipe who is more corrosive with his dynamic, doing almost identically what Leonardo DiCaprio did for Blood Diamond, just not as cleverly. (eOne)