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TORONTO — The loneliness of the long-distance photojournalist has been the subject of several films through the years, from such features as “Before the Rain” and “Salvador” to such revealing documentaries as “War Photographer” and “Robert Capa: In Love and War.”
Director-writer Steven Silver weighs in with “The Bang Bang Club,” a narrative about four photographers capturing the final days of apartheid against the wartorn backdrop of South Africa, circa 1994.
But rather than immersing the viewer in that harrowing environment, the bloody backdrop remains essentially just that: set dressing that waits in the wings while the film concerns itself with the sex/drugs/rock ‘n’ roll-lite lifestyle of its quartet of young, white, male protagonists.
The foreground, led by South African-accented Ryan Phillippe, doesn’t exactly fare much better, with the film failing to delve beneath the surface to show what drives these guys to risk their lives in what typically is a solitary profession.
Distributed north of the border by eOne Films, the Canada-South Africa co-production likely will land a U.S. distributor, but its theatrical prospects look less certain.
Based on the book by two of those photographers — Greg Marinovich and Joao Silver — the production admittedly contains some brutally authentic re-creations of the conflict between the African National Congress and government-backed tribal factions.
Less convincing is the arm’s-length portrait of Marinovich (Phillippe), Silva (Neels Van Jaarsveld), Kevin Carter (Taylor Kitsch) and Ken Oosterbroek (Frank Rautenbach), who were given descriptive nicknames for their willingness to put themselves in the line of fire.
As captured by award-winning documentary filmmaker Silver, and despite their on-screen tenacity and the actors’ committed performances, they remain a pretty vapid bunch, with nary a well-coiffed hair out of place.
There never really is a time when the audience is allowed to see exactly what’s going on inside these individuals when they’re not working behind their cameras, dodging gunfire or hanging out with one another or the sketchy female characters who provide distraction.
When all is said and done, their Pulitzer-winning photographs prove more potent than this well-intended but frustratingly generic picture.
Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (E1 Entertainment-Canada)
Production: E1 Entertainment, Instinctive Film, Foundry Films, Out of Africa Entertainment
Cast: Ryan Phillippe, Malin Akerman, Taylor Kitsch
Director-screenwriter: Steven Silver
Executive producers: Neil Tabatznik, Steven Silver, Patrice Theroux, Laszlo Barna, Chris Ouwinga, Darryn Welch, Kweku Mandela Amuah, Shabir Carrim, Ahmed Omar Carrim, Lal Bahrwey, Kwame Amuah, Jannie Van Wyk
Producers: Daniel Iron, Lance Samuels, Adam Friedlander
Director of photography: Miroslaw Baszak
Production designer: Emelia Weavind
Music: Philip Miller
Costume designer: Ruy Filipe
Editor: Ron Sanders
No rating, 109 minutes
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