Highly anticipated for a release on our shores, The Bang Bang Club film was finally close enough to home for me to catch it; turns out that anticipation is as much as the film could build.
The story is inexplicably told retroactively by Taylor Kitch’s inaudible version of Kevin Carter which is the first in a long list of unnecessary and impotent stylistic choices. The eyes and ears of the audience is mostly Ryan Phillippe’s Greg Marinovich, who keeps his performance subtle enough for us not to notice the excessive overuse of local lingo. However, much to my disappointment most of the remaining cast end up sounding more like caricatures of South Africans.
Putting aside my petty gripes on linguistics, the biggest problem I found is the lack of direction within the film. Steven Silver is a first time feature director, but with his extensive documentary experience I feel he might have let things go on too long as is expected from that style of film making. The bullet pacing of the film doesn’t allow for us to build relationships with anyone other than two of the four members of the Bang Bang Club and a handful of bit parts along the way. Standout performances, Neels van Jaarsveld (in the role of Joao Silva) being a prime example, beg for more screen time but is given so little. Events in the personal lives of The Bang Bang Club simply happen without much tension or investment. Greg’s relationship with his wife for example just happens and you feel cheated out of caring because we’re forced to simply accept it, not want it. Side characters are introduced who are supposed to be important and then disappear until a quick mention later on while others hop on later and play no significant role other than “they were there.”
Having said that, the film is not without merit, where Steven Silver lacks in narrative direction he excels in recreating the carnage of those turbulent years in South Africa’s history. You almost feel the heat from the fires and you might find yourself clenching the seat as The Bang Bang Club run in to take that shot while dodging bricks, pangas and bullets. The imagery was brutal without being too graphic and it really gives you a sense of how cheap life was in a time where at least four factions were at each other’s throats. I suspect Steven Silver’s documentary experience lent in no small way to how real the conflict felt; finding myself anticipating the next big photographic excursion. The cinematography is excellent, every frame oozing the gritty nature of the conflict and drawing you into every frame; Miroslaw Baszak knows how to make grimy attractive. He will find his niche in the horror genre I bet in the years to come although considering the subject matter of this film Baszak fits like a glove here.
In summary, The Bang Bang Club has some good to offer and historically it’s important (I get that), but as a piece of entertainment it fails to bring itself across as an experience. It’s more a bullet point of events told without the emotional attachment that it so strongly needed for a human interest story about four dedicated men braving the most intense riots in our nation’s history for that perfect picture.