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Friday, July 22, 2011

The Bang Bang Club: The Review

Yesterday, I posted a feature that dealt with the background and origins of the film. Now, here's my review.

From Channel24.co.za

What it's about:
Based on a true story, the titular Bang Bang Club was a group of four South African photojournalists whose willingness to do whatever it took to get the perfect shot often took a great personal toll on their lives and personal relationships and had them facing tremendous ethical dilemmas about what they were doing. It also meant, however, that they were responsible not only for some of the most iconic images to come out of those tumultuous years before the end of apartheid, but were also able to expose a civil war happening in South Africa that could have brought the country to its knees, but went almost unnoticed by white South Africans and the international community.

What we thought:

There is a lot to like about The Bang Bang Club and, yes, there are aspects that niggle, but it is a film that deserves to be seen by as wide an audience – a South African audience, especially – as possible, simply because it tells a genuinely exceptional story. This is a film that not only gives us a greater understanding of the final years of apartheid and the shocking devastation of the Xhosa-Zulu civil war, but it also provides insight into the people who literally risked life and limb to bring the truth to light and the very definite toll that it took on them.

It is a narrative that provides fertile ground for a multitude of themes that will perhaps resonate most with media types but, considering that we are living in an unprecedented age of ease-of-access information and news, these are talking points that have never been timelier. The Bang Bang Club is a story that inevitably raises questions about the media's responsibility to convey the truth versus its responsibility to its subjects beyond "merely" reporting on them while asking just how far is too far in the pursuit of a story and measuring that against the nasty business of censorship.

INTERVIEW: The Bang Bang Club: Our dark history through a lens



What we have here, in short, is a film whose basic material is so intrinsically compelling that it would take some fairly abysmal filmmaking to screw it up. While this may be the very first non-documentary feature film for Steven Silver, he avoids the trap of many first time directors by not trying too hard to stamp everything with his own directorial style – wisely stepping back and allowing this fascinating story to unfold on its own terms. His history as an awards-winning documentary-filmmaker serves him well here as he brings an objective eye to some incendiary subject matter and brutally violent images. He does perhaps take this objective detachment a bit too far, however, as the film's most notable flaw is that some of the quieter moments – the kind of drama that wouldn't usually feature in a documentary – fall slightly flat.

Not that anything in the film falls quite as flat as some of the accents on display. The calibre of talent in front of the camera is generally very high with some very impressive turns from local (Frank Rautenbach and Neels Van Jaarsveld are especially good as Ken Oosterbroek and Joao Silver, respectively) and American/Canadian actors alike. Malin Akerman is far more solid here than she has been in some of her more questionable roles and Ryan Phillippe really steps up his game with a career-best performance as the film's nominal lead.

Both of them do perfectly OK with our clearly difficult South African accent. Would that I could say the same about Taylor Kitsch. His weird, racial-and-regional-unspecific accent gives the 'Sowfff Aahfrikaaan' accents in Lethal Weapon 2 a run for their money in terms of sheer laughable awfulness. And yet, none of this changes the fact that his is clearly the breakout performance here. His character is by far the most psychologically scarred and complex in the film and, accent aside, he is every bit as compelling and heartbreakingly tragic as the role demands.

It may not be perfect but there is little reason not to give The Bang Bang Club a shot.


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