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The Bang Bang Club - Review

The Bang Bang Club

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

THE days when films that go ‘straight to DVD’ should be discounted as not worth seeing are rapidly disappearing if the strength of some recent releases is anything to go by.

In recent months we’ve had Adrien Brody’s Wrecked, Robert De Niro and Edward Norton’s Stone and Kim Cattrall’s Meet Monica Velour as prime examples of films that deserved a shot at a cinematic release.

Steven Silver’s The Bang Bang Club is another that falls into that category, and firmly so.

Based on the real-life experiences of four photo-journalists covering the tribal violence between Inkatha and ANC supporters in the early 90s in South Africa (and who became known as the Bang Bang Club of the film’s title), this is a hard-hitting, informative and emotionally gripping piece of work that deserves to find a big audience.

Taylor Kitsch, Ryan Philippe, Frank Rautenbach and Neels Van Jaarsveld play the photographers in question (Kevin Carter, Greg Marinovich, Ken Oosterbroek and Joao Silver), while Malin Akerman co-stars as their boss and love interest to Marinovich.

Silver’s film divides its time between exploring the psychology and morality of the photographers in question and recreating some of the iconic scenes they witnessed and photographed – many of which are harrowing (such as the sight of a man being beaten and then set on fire while still alive).

It also poses the pertinent question of what should be captured on film, without intervention or prevention, and the effect of such shot gathering on the people charged with getting it.

Admittedly, there’s a lot of ground to cover and some events have been modified for dramatic effect, often to the overall detriment of the piece (such as the fate of one new Bang Bang recruit).

The romance between Philippe’s Greg and Akerman’s Robin also feels designed to broaden the film’s appeal to a wider audience, while delivering a character who clearly represents the majority view.

But these are but small quibbles when taking into account the relevance of the film and its power to provoke intelligent thought and debate, while shining a light on an important chapter in South African history.

It also puts it into sharper focus given the recent deaths of photo-journalists Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros in Libya, and the fact that one of the film’s own subjects, Silver, also lost both his legs on assignment in Afghanistan last year – underlining the risks these men (and women) take in pursuit of a photo many people probably only glance over during the morning breakfast or commute.

In terms of performance, too, the film pays big rewards, with Philippe and Kitsch particularly strong in the bulkier roles.

The Bang Bang Club is therefore highly recommended viewing that in no way deserves to have missed out on its shot at big screen success in the UK.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 106mins
UK DVD Release: October 3, 2011