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STUDIO Entertainment One
RUNNING TIME 97 Minutes
• Feature Length Commentary with writer/director Steven Silver
• Making Of
• Behind the Scenes Slideshow
• Deleted Scenes
• Kgosi Mongake Interviews Cast and Crew
A flawed but good docu-narrative biography of some suicidal photographers.
Director Steven Silver Actors Ryan Phillippe, Malin Akerman, Taylor Kitsch
As apartheid comes to a violent end, four fearless photographers – Greg Marinovich, Kevin Carter, Ken Oosterbroek and João Silva – bonded by their friendship and a sense of purpose, risk their lives to capture the bloody struggle and expose the truth.
The Bang Bang Club is a biographical tale of four photographers that lived their lives in constant danger while turning out some incredible award winning photos. Two of the surviving photographers wrote a best selling book about their experiences and then they helped during the production of the film to bring more realism to story alongside the real locations that are were used in the film. Many places site the plot as the story of Kevin Carter and the experiences that led to his suicide shortly after being awarded a Pullitzer, but the story has focal issues that I will address further into the review.
The director, Steven Silver, has won several awards for work on war and depression era documentaries and uses the story of The Bang Bang Club to move into non-documentary story telling. This doesn’t work as well as it sounds on paper though, as the movie comes out a disjointed and hard to follow at times. The action scenes have a sense of realism. Some of the performances are powerfully raw and the local South Africans in or around authentic locations add value that could not have been done without Silver’s experience interacting with real people on real topics. Silver both adds to the film and detracts from the overall experience.
The biggest problem I had was the most realistic integrity of the film, the relentless violence, an aspect that didn’t transition well into a narrative tale. Often times I found myself amazed by the abundance of violence but also confused as I had no idea who was against who. At one point in the movie, an outsider asks where our club is going and who is fighting, and the answer is “Who cares? It’s bang bang.”. I am to assume by that statement that these guys honestly didn’t always know who they were witnessing, but just that the violence and brutality could be used for a paycheck. While this says loads for our photographers, it often had the viewer watching random heinous acts and not focusing on our central characters.
The movie bills three main performers, Ryan Phillippe as the rookie Greg Marinovich, Taylor Kitsch as the wild and crazy Kevin Carter and Malin Akerman as editor Robin Comley. Akerman is perfect in her role as the person responsible for motivating the club and publishing as much of their work as she could get away with in such a hostile environment. She also fits in as a romantic lead, which she easily exhibits the proper charms when needed and the evolution of emotions that are required to take her character through a sympathetic and realistic character arc.
Ryan Phillippe steals most of his scenes with the other club members and attributes to the other big flaw I had with this film. There are films that do very well at switching the narrative between characters and letting you see a different perspective as each character may experience. In The Bang Bang Club, we tend to lazily float the perspective between Kitsch and Phillippe. Phillippe’s character is fun, crazy and daring, always risking his life and transitioning from a lucky person barely staying alive to an almost suicidal mentor to the other members of the club. Kitsch goes from depressed stoner partier to depressed druggie. Kitsch also speaks with a South African accent that appears to fluctuate in inflection throughout the film. It felt as if Steven Silver never wanted to withdraw enough from either actor to firmly establish his vision as to who was telling the story at any one moment.
The film also suffers from pacing concerns. We often slow to a crawl only to jump back into action and out within a 10 minute span. It was very characteristic of a documentary but not of a narrative. It often left you disconnected with certain characters and events. By the time you would settle into the chapter at hand, it changed and made you refocus. I found it similar to a lot of modern day novels that contain very short chapters to keep the reader interested. This may work better in books, or maybe it would have worked better if they didn’t switch the narrative as much.
The Blu Ray contain a bevy of special features. There is a dry commentary by Director Silver, as well as a slideshow and 5 minutes of deleted scenes that appeared to be cut to reduce the running time and make the film flow better. The deleted scenes that went with the film’s resolution may have helped bring the story to a cleaner end and the pacing was already a little scattered.
A Making of Featurette that is close to 50 minutes longs has conversations with all the main players and primarily focuses on the filming the biggest scene in the movie. We get to hear from the real club members Greg Marinovich and Joao Silva and how they helped in the making of the film. It was definitely interesting to watch Joao show the actors how things were while they are filming on location in the real location of a battle.
A second featurette features a South African child interviewing cast and crew members and giving a little of his take on what’s going on. This has the locals being themselves as well as them performing in a group. His questions seem to be unscripted and this is a much watch, with moments that are possibly as entertaining as the film itself.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars