Based on the autobiographical book, The Bang-Bang Club: Snapshots from A Hidden War by Greg Marinovich and Joao Silva, the film tells the story of Kevin Carter (Kitsch Taylor), Ken Oosterbroek (Frank Rautenbach) and Joao Silva (Neels Van Jaarsveld) as they document the final bloody days of white rule in South Africa. They are joined by newcomer Greg Marinovich (Ryan Phillippe) and are given the moniker of the film’s title due to the extreme risks they took in order to capture the horrific and harrowing war that tore apart the country between 1990 and 1994.
Dialogue is sparse in the film, and like the images documented during the period, Miroslaw Baszak’s sumptuous cinematography captures the story like the photographs these young men took. Like a picture, these images tell a thousand stories and the audience is often placed directly in the midst of violent conflicts that the four protagonists capture, and will feel uncomfortable whilst watching acts of disturbing violence and hatred. These are not gratuitously graphic scenes, but they are unsettling in nature, which evoke the very power of cinema. The power to make an audience think. Moral questions are raised throughout the course of the story: Are the photographers enjoying the thrill of the chase? Do they do what they do for the money and accolades? Should they help the victims that they witness being brutally murdered? In one scene a man is burned alive and this is documented in an almost paparazzi like manner. Other journalists originally named these photographers The Bang Bang Paparazzi, but was soon changed to ‘Club’ because the members felt that the word paparazzi misrepresented their work.
The performances of the four leads are excellent and compelling. Ryan Phillippe, Frank Rautenbach and Neels Van Jaarsveld all display the feeling of excitement whilst being in the heart of the brutal action, to later feel regret and question their motives for undertaking their assignments. Kitsch Taylor as Kevin Carter is a standout performance and his character is moving and sympathetic whilst he suffers from depression and addiction to cannabis and tranquilizers. When Kevin comes under fire at a press conference for a famous image of a starving child in the Sudan being stalked by a vulture, one has feelings of anguish during his grilling. During this scene, Kitsch encompasses all ranges of emotion. At first he is branded Pulitzer Prize winning golden boy then to cold hearted exploiter. Malin Akerman has a small but crucial role as Robin Comley, Editor of the Star newspaper, to whom the Bang Bang Club’s members are freelancers. Like the others, she too starts to question her morality as she witnesses at first hand the scenes of death and despair that she previously only saw in the images that she published.
The film shares a similar aesthetic to Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker and in some ways is even more powerful. With its stark, yet engaging portrayal of the complexities of combat photography; it should not be ignored come Oscar season. Director Steven Silver handles the scenes of large crowds fighting each other with confidence as well as the film’s more intimate moments. A father relating the story of how his young son was killed is particularly heartbreaking.
If it is a thought-provoking experience that you are looking for, then this film is simply unmissable.
The Bang Bang Club screens at the Possible Worlds Canadian Film Festival on 11th August.
For more information and tickets visit: http://www.possibleworlds.net.au