It’s not easy for “The Bang Bang Club” to dramatize the career highs and lows of the real-life newspaper photographers at its center, especially given the conflicting feelings it has about them. There’s certainly a great deal to admire about the bravery of capturing post-apartheid South Africa on film, but it’s difficult to know where getting the story ends and exploitation begins – with so many South Africans slashing and burning and bombing and gunning down one another, bringing a camera along to document the whole thing feels slightly macabre. When guerillas use fire to devastate a woman’s home, one photographer arrives before the flames have even gone out.
While the film’s limelight is broad enough to cover a quartet of photographers, it puts the greatest emphasis on Greg Marinovich (Ryan Phillippe), whose photo editor Robin Comley (Malin Akerman) becomes his confidante. It doesn’t take long for them to develop into something else, though – her admiration for him inspires them to become office lovebirds, a bond she insists they conceal but still isn’t all that agitated when folks catch on. Of course, the movie’s more concerned with Greg’s camerawork in South Africa, including one image of an activist driving a machete down onto a militant who’s on fire. He got a Pulitzer for it the following year.
He isn’t the only Pulitzer Prize winner here – Kevin Carter (Taylor Kitsch) earned the some prestige for photographing a child fighting hunger in a desert as a vulture looks on. Even though admirers call the photo a masterpiece, Kevin’s detractors ask why he couldn’t bring the child to a friendlier environment, like the site where U.N. workers were giving out rice not too far away. For Kevin, there are no easy answers, and with an addiction to drugs on top of everything, each day brings with it a personal anguish that becomes more and more apparent.
Ken Oosterbroek (Frank Rautenbach) and Joao Silva (Neels Van Jaarsveld) complete the central cast, and while the movie doesn’t use Rautenbach to his full potential, Van Jaarsveld finds enough nerve in Joao to give himself an edge. “The Bang Bang Club,” though, is more about occupational hazards with bigger consequences than these guys expected – not all escaped the violence with their lives, but when the film looks at what they’ve become, we know they each had to give up a bit of humanity. Keep that in mind as you browse through the early edition tomorrow.