The Bang Bang Club
Is surprisingly, not pornography.
Before Nelson Mandela was elected President of South Africa in 1994, the country was ruled by a white minority who held the black majority in oppression under the segregation laws known as apartheid. In an attempt to stop Mandela’s party from gaining power, the government supplied weapons to the Zulu people, who were engaged in a bloody tribal conflict with Mandela’s supporters. What resulted was an all-out war in the slums of South Africa, a war which was far removed from the white population, but was delivered to them through images in magazines and newspaper articles—terrifying images of bloodshed as seen through the lenses of four photojournalists known as the Bang Bang Club.
Our title characters are real-life South African photographers Ken Oosterbroek, João Silva, Greg Marinovich and Kevin Carter. Based on the book by Silva entitled The Bang-Bang Club: Snapshots from a Hidden War, the film focuses on Marinovich and Carter (Ryan Phillippe and Taylor Kitsch, respectively) and their Pulitzer Prize® winning photographs.
One can’t help but draw comparisons to City of God, given the whole combat photography premise of both films, and both being set in a sort of urban warfare environment. Even the ending credits feel eerily similar, showing the photographers’ real life photographs compared side by side to those taken in the film. I couldn’t help noticing similarities to The Hurt Locker as well, given the episodic structure of both films. While Hurt Locker is about a group of guys going out and disarming bombs, one mission after another, The Bang Bang Club is about a group of guys going into battle and snapping photos, risking their lives for the perfect shot.
There are definitely some strong racial undertones throughout the film. Greg is demonized by his black cohorts as being “Another whitey photographer making money off the spilled blood of Africans.” Near the beginning of the film, Greg tries to stop a man from being brutally murdered simply because he is Zulu. But he eventually realizes there is nothing he can do to solve the underlying problems except take photos. As the film progresses, he becomes more and more hardened. At one point when caught in a firefight, a fellow journalist asks what’s going on, to which he aptly replies, “Who cares? It’s bang bang,” and starts snapping pictures. As he grows indifferent to the violence going on around him, he also grows indifferent to his own safety. During one of his first assignments, a fellow photographer laughs as bullets fly overhead. Greg asks, “Can’t you at least pretend to be scared?” But toward the end, Greg risks his life crossing the street in heavy gunfire to buy a Coke®.
Both Phillippe and Kitsch deliver outstanding performances—they even got the accent down perfectly. Okay, I may be no expert on the South African accent, but my amateur ear could swear they were born and raised in Johannesburg. I was also pleasantly surprised to see the familiar face of Malin Akerman as the newspaper editor and Phillippe’s love interest. This was a nice career move after her stunning performance in Happythankyoumoreplease, in which she played an alopecia victim. It’s nice to finally see her with some hair.