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|The Bang Bang Club
dir-scr Steven Silver
prd Adam Friedlander, Daniel Iron, Lance Samuels
with Ryan Phillippe, Taylor Kitsch, Malin Akerman, Frank Rautenbach, Neels Van Jaarsveld, Patrick Lyster, Russel Savadier, Ashley Mulheron
release US 22.Apr.11, UK Jun.11 eiff
10/South Africa 1h46
Get the picture: Akerman and Phillippe
TORONTO FILM FEST
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
The riveting true story of four combat photographers in volatile early-90s South Africa, this film is painstakingly detailed in its recreation of iconic events and images. It's also beautifully played by a superb cast, although the story is undermined by unnecessary sideplots.
In the months leading up to South Africa's first free elections, journalists scrambled to cover the turbulent political situation. And four young photographers were dubbed the Bang Bang Club for their willingness to throw themselves into incendiary situations. Greg (Philippe) is the fearless rookie, while Kevin (Kitsch) is haunted and ambitious. With colleagues Ken (Rautenbach) and Joao (Van Jaarsveld), they work for picture editor Robin (Akerman) to find proof of government involvement in violently repressing its opponents.
This film is packed with moments that take the breath away. Not only are the action scenes heart-racingly tense, but it's fascinating to watch the cast and crew recreate several unforgettable images, including two famous Pulitzer-winning photos. This is done on a remarkably huge scale, and we can vividly feel the bullets whizzing past our heads as crowds of people clash all around us.
This intensity is nicely undercut by the camaraderie between these men, and the actors create engaging, believable characters we identify with. Even so, the filmmakers feel the need to stir in both melodrama and romance, as Kevin struggles with addictions to women and drugs and Greg falls for Robin. And both subplots are far too prominent, which makes them distracting.
Much more interesting, and far more resonant, is the journalists' struggle to tell the truth to a society that's in denial. Is their determination to get an honest image reckless or courageous? Does their rock-star lifestyle help them cope with the staggering horror they're documenting? Do journalists have an obligation to help when they see someone in need? Or is shooting a photo a form of assistance?
When the film grapples with these questions, it stays sharp and observant. So it's frustrating to see the plot stop completely for scenes of slushy romance or soapy drama. If only writer-director Silver had the same confidence as these photographers: that showing the raw truth is far more powerful than any attempt to make the story bigger or more accessible.
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© 2011 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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