He is not Zulu, he’s Khoisan like Mandela, he deserves to die.
After watching Rango (2011), I thought that surely the next movie, The Bang Bang Club (2010), which I’d never heard of before I saw it on the library catalog, couldn’t be very good. That’s just not the way it works out. Well, it wasn’t rip-roaring laughs, but it was a darn good movie.
The Bang-Bang Club was a group of four photographers who worked especially in combat zones. Gregg (Ryan Phillippe) is the new guy on the block who needs a little schooling from Kevin (Taylor Kitsch), Ken (Frank Rautenbach), and João (Neels Van Jaarsveld). On their first meeting, the three musketeers and Gregg, that is, there’s a little uneasiness towards Gregg. But, when he comes back with some great pictures of the Zulus in their hostels. Trust me, it was brave. From then on, they’re a close-knit group who go out on assignments that are either battles or the results of battles. It’s all brutal and it’s just the beginning. They take a truly horrific picture and it’s payday–the picture’s all over the world, maybe you win a Pulitzer. That’s how it works. If you don’t get a great shot, you still get paid, just not as much. All the high and none of the low. Unless taking pictures of people dead, dying, or being murdered in front of your eyes is a low. Well, you get a taste of the action and then you lose your mind. Then your stuff gets used for nasty political purposes. And you might get hooked on smack.
Gregg, as the hottest of the group (at least in the movie, if not in life) is the mainest character, followed by Kevin, and then a large drop off to Ken, and finally João. Phillippe does very well. Long past is the pouty Valmont from Cruel Intentions–well, maybe not long past. He does a South African accent and that’s hard to do without becoming a caricature. Kitsch, who I’ve never knowingly seen–and looking on IMDB, his prior roles were not memorable–also does well as the most broken of the bunch. Malin Akerman, as Gregg’s love interest/editor, does her job just fine, but she really only gets one scene of real acting and, as I say, does just fine.
When the DVD cover said “It’s not always black and white,” I thought does anyone think it ever is? That makes two errors: (1) sometimes it is black and white and (2) I mistook the tagline and the film to be primarily about the South African conflict. Steven Silver, who also wrote the screenplay (based on João Silva‘s novel), takes the central theme, photography, and really hammers it in without intruding. That’s really what photojournalism is, right? Non-intrusive. There’s a line in Broadcast News (1987) where Holly Hunter says “We are not here to stage the news.” That’s what Silver does, we watch, always watch. Gregg gets the shot and we think, “Oh, great shot!” Well, the man with a machete in his skull might think otherwise–excuse me, “thought.”
Where The Longest Day sucked in presenting context, this movie does well. Kevin Carter lights up a joint outside a police tank without fear because the cops are too scared to come outside. It’s comic and its informative. See? “Kev, you got the shot, move on man.” That’s how you tell the story of the journalists in one sentence. See? Again, that’s photography. You show what happens and people will get it. Sometimes, I thought, what is he trying to say here? And then I think, does he have to be saying anything? We’re capturing a moment of history, at least one aspect of it–and an aspect with which I was not familiar (the best kind). I’m reminded of a similar movie, The Hunting Party (2007) which is about a television reporter who faces what must be the constant in photojournalism, should I get involved?
In The Bang Bang Club, the other side of the issue is discussed: if we do this, we’re taking a side and every one of us becomes a target. That’s why one of the Black photojournalists gets upset, because the white guys get a free pass in, ironically, apartheid South Africa.