Today: April 17, 2024

Bang Bang Club, The

In the infamous Johannesburg township of Soweto, during the death throes of the apartheid regime, four photographers take big risks to tell a big story.

In
the infamous Johannesburg township of Soweto, during the death throes of the
apartheid regime, four photographers take big risks to tell a big story.

South Africa is tearing itself apart, with
the government struggling to hold the center while the edges crumble. As the
Zulu Inkatha movement and the African National Congress fight for control of
the country’s future, tribal ritual and conflict meets army-issue weaponry. No
quarter is asked or given. This is a brutal time, with the stench of burning
tyres and the rumble of Buffel armoured vehicles.

Greg Marinovich (Ryan Phillippe), a young wannabe photographer, meets
photojournalists Kevin Carter, Ken Oosterbrook and Jaoa Silva over a dead man’s
body, in the aftermath of a brief skirmish. Full of ambition and devoid of
fear, Marinovich takes to the nearby Inkatha encampment to capture the Zulu
side of the story. There he witnesses another murder and gets some raw
pictures.

Enthused, the Johannesburg Star hires
Marinovich, who pitches in with Carter, Oosterbrook and Silva to cover the
unfolding violence.

Young, rougish and reckless, the four
become known as The Bang Bang Club.

Initially they revel in the respect and
notoriety, but they come to hate the term, with all its connotations of having
a good time. Increasingly, they have anything but. The disorder and death that
surrounds them is horrific. In the process of doing their jobs, the four become
torn between utter revulsion at what they see and an almost compulsive desire
to keep doing their job, to keep striving for the perfect picture.

And they succeed – Marinovich wins a
Pulitzer Prize for his shot of a burning man being clubbed to death. Carter
follows suit, his astonishing photograph of a vulture stalking a starving child
in southern Sudan making the front pages of newspapers around the world.

Based on a book by Marinovich and Silva,
this is a true story. Mostly it justifies its transfer to the screen. The
township violence, captured by shaky hand-held camerawork, has a visceral
quality and the viewer is never in doubt about the severity of events.

But the film falters slightly in its
portrayal of the consequent fallout, and the constraints of the relatively
short running time of 94 minutes begin to show toward the end.

That Carter – a rock star among
photojournalists – fell furthest and hardest is a matter of record, but here it
plays out too easily. One minute he’s puffing on a spliff, the next he’s
crashed his car, whacked out on Mandrax like a poster boy for the Just Say No
campaign.

Taylor
Kitsch
(X-Men Origins) imbues Carter with the
requisite charm and, later, thousand-yard stare. Phillippe gives it his all as
Marinovich, but is yet to really convince in any of his roles. The South
African accents are sound, though – Canadian Kitsch and American Phillippe hold
their own against actual South Africans Frank
Rautenbach
, as Oosterbroek, and Neels
van
Jaarsveld, as Silva.

The Bang Bang Club tells an important story
and does it well, but the actual Bang Bang Club’s legacy will be in the
photography. It is a mark of director Steven
Silver
’s background in documentaries that those photographs adorn the
closing credits.

To Pre-Order The Bang Bang Club On DVD Click Here

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com

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