TriBeCa 2011: The Bang Bang Club Review

| April 23, 2011

Steven Silver, director of The Bang Bang Club, says that he would not recommend making a film with four main characters– sound advice. The Bang Bang Club is on the top of the list of must-see films at the TriBeCa Film Festival for a few reasons- solid acting, images that are commanding, terrifying and enlightening and the compelling dynamics of South Africa during its last days of Apartheid. But, there is a depth to the story of the four combat photojournalists that comprised the “club” that we don’t get access to, a wealth of character that is not tapped into.
Greg Marinovich, Joao Silva, Kevin Carter and Ken Oosterbroek were initially nicknamed the Bang Bang Paparazzi, but that didn’t sit too well with them. They weren’t stalking celebrities. They went into townships not far from the gated communities they came from, following death and destruction, documenting it and showing it to the world. During their years together they experience professional success and personal trials that created an extraordinary camaraderie.
The social and political context of South Africa during this time is handled carefully, maybe even too carefully, in The Bang Bang Club. It is brought to life, however, by the director’s vision to recreate the events behind the photographs. The scenes, like the pictures, are powerful and penetrating, and just like in the photographs, the commentary, the story, the history, the people are present and represented.
An important contrast made manifest in the film is between the white world of the journalists and the black world of the townships they so closely and passionately examine. These are not guys who spend their spare time chillin’ with the locals in their townships and sleeping in the confined bungalows. They enjoy their cozy apartments, partying at mostly-white night clubs with their tall, beautiful girlfriends, are really happy on pay-days, hardened and desensitized on some days, overwhelmed by the weight on others.
Solid, thoughtful performances from Ryan Phillippe, Taylor Kitsch, Neels Van Jaarsveld and Frank Rautenbach help the audience care for and respect these men, but the script doesn’t allow us to understand them. Kitsch’s portrayal of Kevin Carter is sensitive and intriguing, but we are left with what are more like hints of his demons– no clear sense of what they are or the circumstances outside of his job that may have lead to them. We can’t help feeling that we’re getting an abridged, compact version of Marinovich, Silva, Carter and Oosterbroek.
At times, it feels like The Bang Bang Club is searching for its backbone, for the pool of insight that will take it to the next level. But, there are poignant, telling and moving points throughout the film. The resurrections of the events behind the photos taken at the time are absorbing and stunning, even if the resurrections of the complex and brilliant men behind the camera are somewhat grainy.

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