"Yes, I think we all used her," Eve Arnold once said of Marilyn Monroe. "I think as a photographer, one has to accept the fact that one does invade other people's privacy." If photographing a movie star poses an ethical dilemma, what questions are raised by combat photography? Writer and director Steven Silvers offers a few roughly drawn possibilities in The Bang Bang Club, the story of a real-life troupe of photojournalists in South Africa in the early 1990s. "Forget the long lens," Kevin (Taylor Kitsch) tells Greg (Ryan Phillippe), who aspires to join Soweto's merry band of war photographers. "This stuff only looks good up close." That "stuff" is the crescendo of civil violence that precluded the end of apartheid, and newspaper head honcho Ken (Frank Rautenbach) and his crew are making a meal of it. Greg breaks into their inner circle and the pants of his photo editor (Malin Akerman), then wins a Pulitzer for capturing a particularly gruesome murder. Silvers treads around, and too heavily, on the moral ambiguities involved in documenting atrocities, moving between frantic, poorly explained scenes of African conflict and the equally familiar, benumbing aesthetic of boys making a macho game of war.
Phillippe as action-seeking photographer.
Runs at Northwest Film Forum, Fri., April 29–Thurs., May 5. Not rated. 106 minutes.