Shooters Gallery

Bang Bang Club makes a lot of noise, signifying nothing.

The Bang Bang Club
Directed by Stephen Silver
Starring Ryan Phillipe, Taylor Kitsch
2 ½ out of 5 Stars

Are war photographers courageous chroniclers of conflict, or just a bunch of adrenalin junkies out to shoot pictures of people shooting guns?

That is the big question that the new film The Bang Bang Club asks, but does not successfully answer.

The Bang Bang Club is based on a 2000 memoir by Greg Marinovich (played by brooding pretty boy Ryan Phillipe) and Joao Silver (Neels van Jaarsveld). The so-called club was made up of a group of four war photographers (the other two being Ken Oosterbroek, played by Frank Rautenbach, and Kevin Carter, played by Canadian Taylor Kitsch), who rose to fame (in photojournalism circles, anyway) for their coverage of the battles between Zulu nationalists and Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress in the dying years  of South African apartheid in the 1990s. As depicted in the film, the four shooters (that’s newspaper talk for photographers) would pile into a vehicle and race off to the scene of the latest battle between the rival forces. (In the film, they are often shown together taking the same shot. Seems like they would get four of the same images.) As their photos become more and more famous — Phillipe’s character, the most daring of the four, wins a Pulitzer Prize for one shot of a man being burned alive — so, too, do the photographers. By night, it’s non-stop booze, drugs and women, then it’s up early the next morning for more click-click of the bang-bang.

The pace, and the scope of human carnage they witness, takes its toll on Carter. Well played by the brooding hunk Kitsch (Tim Riggins from the late, lamented Friday Night Lights), Carter descends into a spiral of drugs and guilt. He leaves South Africa for the Sudan, where he takes a photo of a starving child being stalked by a vulture. (You can see the picture at He, too, wins a Pulitzer, but is consumed with guilt and self-doubt when he can’t answer questions about the fate of the little girl, and why he did nothing to help.

The Bang Bang Club succeeds relatively well as an action picture (there are some pretty authentic scenes of the two sides getting ready to face off, with the photographers actually standing in the middle) but struggles with the weightier issues it delves into. The matter of white men exploiting black men for personal gain is touched upon, and the whole matter of the value of combat photography — which is the central issue of the film — is barely addressed.  Maybe it’s just too big an issue for a film, or maybe the director just thought he should leave it up to the viewer to decide. In either event, The Bang Bang Club is a technically proficient film that asks some pretty big questions, which it isn’t quite up to answering.

In the end, The Bang Bang Club is a mixture of action and topical films, but never quite succeeds at either.


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