Bang Bang Club – Movie Review

movie reviewI’m a big fan of photography. I even have a few friends who are very talented and professional in that field. I’m also a bit fascinated by a very special species amongst photographers. And that’s war photographers.

This movie is about 4 guys who are exactly that. War photographers. The movie plays between 1990 and 1994 in South Africa. Right when the downfall of Apartheid happened. It shows the true story of four young men who pretty much define what photography can do. Strong images can change a lot in the mindset of people. And that’s what these people do. They’re hunting down situations or moments, for that one lucky shot, that will give them the ultimate photo.

The movie gives us Greg Marinovich (Ryan Philippe), who we will follow throughout the movie. At the beginning he’s the new kid in town. Soon he makes connections and teams up with Kevin Carter (Taylor Kitsch), Joao Silva (Neels Van Jaarsveld) and Ken Oosterbroek (Frank Rautenbach). Greg manages to impress the other guys with his dedication and, most importantly, his photography. Soon they’re a true team and go out into the field together. There we can see what it really needs to be in these situations. To get these photos, it often requires to go that one last step farther, than any normal guy would go. Sometimes it’s like a death wish sort of thing. With talent and a good portion of luck, they manage to capture scenes of a live, we normally don’t get to see in our first world countries. Often disturbing and hard material. It’s almost as if these photographers are getting high by hunting down these dangerous situations. And that really is the danger of this job. How much suffering can you absorb with your camera lens… just being a neutral bystander, without breaking apart? That’s one question that movie tries to shed light on. We also get to see the transition these photographers go through when they are not in the field… going back into the field. At night they are out in bars and try to have a good time. Maybe try to let go the horrible things they saw this day. And when it’s time to go out again… it’s like they are preparing to go to war. We get some nice insights into these dynamics.

The movie certainly isn’t a perfect one. While it manages to, what I think, deliver a clear picture of the historical events back then, it also lacks a little depth. The acting is good but portrayed in a way that still left me a little cold. I’m pretty sure each of these four guys deserves a movie on its own… so maybe the fact that they tried to scram it all into one… did not work out too well. At least for me. Nonetheless we learn to understand what a crazy job these guys do. What a mental stress it is, to get these pictures that will go around the world, in all sorts of news formats. For some of these guys it seems as if all this makes them high. It’s like a drug. Adrenalin rush. Especially while following Greg from beginning to end, we see how he is dulling out more and more. But not to a degree that turns him into a machine. He’s still fighting. And it takes him a lot. But again I missed some more moments where the movie explores that a little deeper.

It helps if you’ve seen the documentary ‘War Photographer’. It follows James Nachtway, one of the most respected and talented photographers ever. He pretty much saw everything war has to offer. It’s remarkable that he is as calm and sane as he is. He’s also in the movie (played by an actor) at a later point.

If you are remotely interested in photography, in its rawest shape and form… then it’s best you watch this movie and the documentary ‘War Photographer’ back to back. If that doesn’t leave an impression then… I’m sorry for you. =)


Bang Bang Club on IMDb

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