The Bang Bang Club

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
The Bang Bang Club Movie Poster Image
Wartime photography drama is intense but overcomplicated.
  • R
  • 2011
  • 107 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The characters are self-destructive and selfish and have numbed themselves to violent events. But they demonstrate teamwork while in the thick of battle, and they occasionally show empathy. Moreover, their photographs, even if they can be seen as exploitation, sometimes have a positive effect the world over.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Main character Greg is sometimes reckless and callous, but overall he shows empathy and bravery. He could be viewed in some circles as a hero, though that could be debated. (He may be exploiting his subjects to further his career.) Parents would have to think twice before encouraging this kind of dangerous, questionable career for their kids.

Violence

The characters work while surrounded by constant, horrifying violence; sometimes they're numb to it, and other times it affects them brutally. Viewers see general unrest, with riots, chasing, yelling, and throwing rocks. There are also bloody corpses, swords, knives, guns, and shooting. Many people are killed on camera, with lots of blood. One character is burned alive and then sliced with a sword. There's a bazooka and an explosion.

Sex

The four main characters are seen kissing and making love with their girlfriends. No sensitive body parts are shown, but viewers do see some skin. In one scene, a girl emerges from under a desk where a male character is sitting, implying that she has given him oral sex. A montage includes a scene of a topless African woman.

Language

"F--k" is used very frequently; there's also a handful of "s--t"s and a couple of uses of "a--hole."

Consumerism

Viewers hear Coke referenced by name a few times and see the bottles, as well as an advertising sign. And one scene plays just like a Coca-Cola commercial: During a shootout, the main character risks his life, racing across a battlefield to a shop, where he buys two Cokes. He then carries them through a hail of bullets back to his buddies. He hands one over, the buddy opens it up, takes a huge swig, and laughs heartily.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

One of the main characters is shown to have a drug problem. He's arrested for drugs and tries to clean up his act, but viewers see him lighting up and smoking pot. All of the characters drink in bars, and some are accused of drinking too much, though viewers rarely see anyone actually drunk. Some characters are seen smoking cigarettes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this true story-based drama about four news photographers in South Africa is set during the turmoil of 1990-1994 surrounding Nelson Mandela's release from prison, the end of apartheid, and disagreements among locals. Though the movie has some positive things to say about the power of photography and journalism, it's filled with intense violence, strong language (many uses of "f--k"), a character with a drug problem, and some sexual situations. Plus, the movie raises many complicated moral questions, and the history it covers isn't presented very clearly.

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What's the story?

In South Africa in 1990, freelance photojournalist Greg Marinovich (Ryan Phillippe) walks into the dangerous Nancefield Workers Hostel in Soweto and emerges alive, with pictures. He thereby wins the respect of his colleagues and lands a contract with the local white-run paper, The Star. Greg and three other photographers -- Kevin Carter (Taylor Kitsch), Ken Oosterbroek (Frank Rautenbach), and João Silva (Neels Van Jaarsveld) -- form the so-called "bang bang club," rushing into danger to photograph the violent events surrounding the end of apartheid and the fights involving the Inkatha movement and the African National Congress. Both Marinovich and Carter win Pulitzer prizes, but have they really helped the people they're photographing?

Is it any good?

Documentary filmmaker Steven Silver makes his feature debut with this complex but engrossing film, which is based on a true story. He re-creates the tumultuous events of 1990-1994 in South Africa and imagines how it must have been for the four real-life photographers to take their memorable and award-winning shots.

Some of the movie's moments have real power. But the bulk of it is complicated and unbalanced, spending too much time on certain issues and dodging others entirely. Silver tries to paint the men as heroes and friends, but moral issues cloud their heroism, and the lack of strong character development muddles the rest. Moreover, the political climate isn't adequately explored or explained. It's an ambitious film, but it has probably bitten off more than it can chew.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the movie's intense wartime violence. How does it affect you? Is it thrilling to see the photographers charge into danger to get a good shot? Why or why not? Does it have more impact because it's based on real-life events?

  • The characters are frequently seen indulging in alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs. Why do you think they turn to these substances? Does the movie condone their behavior? What are the real-life consequences of drinking, smoking, and using drugs?

  • Is it wrong for a journalist to photograph something terrible without helping? Why or why not?

Movie details

For kids who love drama

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