The Bang Bang Club

23 May

Title: The Bang Bang Club
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Steven Silver
Writer: Steven Silver, based on a story by Greg Marinovich and Joao Silva
Starring: 
Taylor Kitsch, Ryan Phillippe, Frank Rautenbach, Neels Van Jaarsveld, Malin Akerman, Patrick Lyster, Russel Savadier
MPAA Rating: 
R, strong brutal violence, disturbing imagines, pervasive language, some drug use and sexual content
Runtime: 
93 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
6.4
Rotten Tomatoes: 
40%

This film tells the story of the group of photographers known as The Bang-Bang Club who became known for their work in South Africa during the Apartheid. And even though the film really isn’t all that great, it was still pretty decent, and I actually thought it got better as it went along, which is something pretty rare to witness in today’s films. Not to mention that Steven Silver, who makes his film directing debut after dabbling in documentaries, does a solid job at handling the subject matter, which can be pretty heavy at times, as he gets the film to feel both informative and true to the story it’s based on while still getting it to be entertaining.

The film is based on a script, also written by Mr. Silver, that was based on a book written by two of the four photographers that were part of the club, and we get to see their stories, about people who put themselves into harm’s way to capture one of the most important events in recent history, with two of these photographers getting Pulitzer prizes for their achievements. However, I have issue with one thing here. Some may know the name one of the people involved in this story, Kevin Carter, he’s the one that shot that iconic photograph of a vulture staking a starving child in Sudan, and who got criticism for standing there taking the photograph and not helping the child. Mr. Carter went on to commit suicide a year later. And those ethical struggles is something this film doesn’t touch upon much, and which I have some issue with, it only hints and not really delves into the ethical dilemmas these group was certainly faced with.

I mean, I don’t mean I think The Bang Bang Club should have been about the darker side of the story, but by just focusing on providing an idealized version of these people, we don’t really get to know them or their stories. Yes, we see these guys, all very good-looking, all leading this lifestyle that’s made to seem kind of awesome in a way, one of them romancing a photo editor that’s Malin Akerman. Which is all very good and definitely has its appeal, but we don’t really get to connect all that much to the characters, and what we learn about them is just so superficial that you can’t help but gear up Google or whatever your favorite search engine is and start researching more about these guys once the movie’s over.

And I like the superficiality of it to a degree, because, like I said, this is a film that doesn’t aspire to be this grandiose statement of socio-politic circumstances still relevant today, but instead wants to be entertaining. And as far as its entertainment value goes, then it does benefit from being more of a superficial account of things than a more fact-by-fact recount of the events. Which is why I’m kind of torn and undecided about exactly how I feel about this one, for the one part I like the fact that they’re glorified and shown as these arrogant group of guys that chicks like and that know how to party, because this is a film and not a documentary and that marks the distinction, but I also would have liked more of a balance with the real story behind it all, with the ethical stuff that must have haunted these guys.

Because, surely it must have haunted them, right? I mean I guess in a way it is represented in one of them, who did show some effect of what their job does to them. But otherwise not really that much, they just continue to look arrogant, like people who use the suffering of others for their own advantage, and yes, the result is art, much of it staggering and incredible, but I still don’t know if it really was like it was shown here, like these guys just turned off that part of themselves that made them unaffected by what they did. You could argue that that was exactly how it was, that they just didn’t show that part of their humanity because their lifestyle, with the parties and girls, was enabled by that, and they lived in a profession in which one-upping each other was a source of pride, and starting to feel for the subjects of their photographies would hurt them in that aspect. But I don’t buy that, I’m sure there was a far more human story here, but it just wasn’t shown.

But all in all The Bang Bang Club is the sort of film that I will recommend, because even though it missed that balance between fictionalizing to entertain and telling the story as it was, I still think it has a few things to commend in it. This is after all, like I said, the sort of film that actually gets better as it goes along, and it does a tremendous job at capturing the defining times it was depicting, which helps this film get some measure of success. I just can’t help feeling that if these guys were portrayed in a more human light, and not just as some daredevil photographers who partied real hard and were represented with little to no depth, the result would have been far more compelling. Maybe not more entertaining, but definitely more compelling, because it’s during the end that the film starts asking those questions about the ethical consequences of their actions, but by then the characters have earned no emotional connection to us, and it does little to help elevate this film to higher places.

Grade: B-

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