The Bang Bang Club

The Bang-Bang Club is a film adaptation of the autobiographical book The Bang-Bang Club: Snapshots from a Hidden War co-written by Greg Marinovich and João Silva who were part of the group of four photographers known as Bang-Bang Club, the other two members being Kevin Carter and Ken Oosterbroek. The joint Canada-South Africa production stars Taylor Kitsch, Ryan Philippe, Malin Akerman and South African actors Frank Rautenbach and Neels Van Jaarsveld. They portray the lives of the four photojournalists active within the townships of South Africa during the Apartheid period, particularly between 1990 and 1994, from when Nelson Mandela was released from prison to the 1994 elections.

The movie tells us about how the Bang Bang Club was formed. Freelancer Greg meets up with fellow photographers Joao, Ken & Kevin while heading to a volatile Zulu residence area in Soweto where an altercation is happening between their  Inkatha Freedom Party and the Mandela backed African National Congress. They photograph a dead body lying on the road before it is taken away and introduce themselves. Greg heads off into the residential area on his own, despite the warnings of a couple of boys, and is chased into a small dwelling by Zulus. He speaks to one of the leaders in English and says that he is a member of the press and he photographs them in various war dance poses before they kill an infiltrator. Later he joines the other 3 and meets Robin Comley at the Star newspaper who does everything she can to get the photos published. The 4 becomes close friends and join forces in heading out to the violence filled areas, taking photos & capturing the final days of apartheid in South Africa. In the evenings they would go to a local bar and let their hair down. Kevin in particular was the playboy type.

The lives of the 4 men are in constant danger from violent men on both sides. Flying bullets aren’t too discriminating in avoiding unbiased journalists. Greg is also hacked at by a protestor as a group use swords and knives to slice at a man before burning him alive. Greg’s photos of the man burning and while one of his assailants runs and slashes a sword at him wins him the Pulitzer prize and the group head off to celebrate. Robin & Greg start an affair while the toll seems to tell on Kevin who flirts with drugs and alcohol. Awards, fame & celebrity status is new to the 4 but they revel in the attention as their photos are published in newspapers and magazines across the glob. At a party a younger photographer asks to join the Bang Bang club and Greg agrees to let him do so at a shoot out between the two opposing groups. The young man is shot dead almost as soon as they get there and despite them rushing him to a hospital in their car he dies in Greg’s arms. Kevin goes on a downward spiral and is soon fired for possessing drugs while on assignment. Broke he borrows some money from Greg and goes to shoot photos of the effects of famine in Sudan. This is where his world famous photo of a vulture stalking a gaunt starving toddler, which wins him a Pulitzer and sets him on a bigger road to fame. He however is shaken when he is criticized for not knowing what happened to the child after the picture was taken and is rattled by questions as to why he didn’t take the child physically and carry it away.

Robin leaves Greg as on an assignment at night Greg photographs a dead body in a small house after interviewing the father of the young boy. Robin holds a light to get better photos for Greg, as the women sit stunned next to the corpse. She breaks down and wants to distance herself from these assignments. As Kevin is interviewed by a radio personality, the other 3 join an older colleague and take some photos at a firing exchange between the army and some insurgents and while they take photos of the shooting, Greg rushes to one area to buy cokes for the group and is soon shot. The older colleague is shot dead on the spot while Ken is fatally wounded. In 1994 a broke & homeless Kevin takes his own life by taping one end of a hose to his pickup truck’s exhaust pipe and running the other end to the driver’s side window. He dies of carbon monoxide poisoning, aged 33. Kitsch reads out a portion of Kevin’s suicide note in the film “”I am depressed … without phone … money for rent … money for child support … money for debts … money!!! … I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings and corpses and anger and pain … of starving or wounded children, of trigger-happy madmen, often police, of killer executioners … I have gone to join Ken if I am that lucky.”

As the movie ends we learn that the two remaining living members of the Bang Bang club still live in Johannesburg, despite having several international assignments and travelling the world. Greg was shot 3 more times, the last while on assignment in Afghanistan and has now left the combat photography field. Joao worked for the New York Times for while before returning to South Africa. They co-wrote the book together. The 2010 film had its world premiere at TIFF in 2011 and has only had minor release in theatres in the US. I quite liked the movie and it’s a compelling watch. They could have done more with the film as the story is begging to be made. Still good enough for a 8 outta 10 from me!

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