“The Bang Bang Club” would like to be an important movie about what happens to people when they’ve seen too much violence, too much inhumanity, just too much. In this case it’s a group of war photographers documenting South Africa’s struggle between the African National Congress and government-backed tribal factions. These men are up close and personal to the action, so why is it that the film and its message rings hollow?
Based on a book by Greg Marinovich and Joao Silver, two of the daredevil Bang Bang Club photographers—so named because they get close to real gunfire—the movie documents a year in the lives of Marinovich (Ryan Phillippe), Silva (Neels Van Jaarsveld), Kevin Carter (Taylor Kitsch) and Ken Oosterbroek (Frank Rautenbach). They are white photo journalists who prowl the townships looking for action. Photos are taken, Pulitzers are won but eventually they learn of the price they must pay for getting that close to the action.
“The Bang Bang Club” plays as though it is at cross purposes with itself. On one hand it wants us to believe that Marinovich is devastated after he photographs a brutal murder as it is happening. Fine, explore that. But just as he’s going down the rabbit hole of depression—we know this because he becomes moody and argumentative—he also wins a Pulitzer Prize for the resulting picture and suddenly, the moral push and pull disappears and he’s popping the corks on champagne bottles.
It feels like every time the movie gets close to uncovering something that may feel authentic it shies away and goes for a Hollywood cliché instead.
It’s too bad because there is a great story here. This just isn’t it.