Cinema Signal:

Machete Season:
The Killers in Rwanda Speak
. "Beyond the Gates" (aka, "Shooting Dogs" and "In Every Human Heart")

Worthy, worthy, worthy, all right? Righteous. But after seeing this account of the 1994 Rwandan massacre once more after "Hotel Rwanda" I can't say this version of the story justifies another movie treatment. Besides, the dramatic impact of such a venture rests largely on characters that broad movie-going audiences can identify with. John Hurt manages to give us a central anchoring point, but with a script that depends on the frightful, hellish situation to provide the drama rather than the emotive power of the westerners caught up in it, or a dominant performance that resonates more dynamically, he barely manages much in the way of personal engagement with the horrific events. Where is Tom Hanks when you need him?

Father Christopher (Hurt) manages, maintains, teaches and holds mass for the church compound and school that has stood for so long in Kigali. But, when the leader of the majority Tsutsi tribe is killed in a helicopter crash, it is the start of a Hutu takeover with all the wrath of a long suppressed minority tht knows no temperance. There is a blood thirst in the land, and it's going to take almost a million lives to quench it.

Understanding the potential horror to come, the UN Security Counsel has sent a small force to be stationed inside the church/school compound as observers. Typical of the organization, the unit's marching orders are to shoot only when shot at. No other engagement with the militia or use of force is mandated. But, the UN soldiers' armed presence and guarding of the gates has the beneficial effect of holding off the vicious attack by the Hutu tribal killers that is constantly threatened. They watch and patrol the growing population inside the gates like victims awaiting their machetes.

The crazed killing was set off when a missile hit a plane with Presidents Juvenal Habyarimana of Rwanda and Cyprien Ntayamira of Burundi aboard, a clear case of assassination. They were on their return from Tanzania where they held talks about establishing a truce between their two countries.

This was 6 months after the Somalia debacle, which may have influenced the U.N. to remove their peacekeeping forces out of fear that they were vulnerable to attack.

Into this disintegrating situation, young Joe (Hugh Dancy) assists Father Christopher as teacher, alter boy and zealot for protection and justice. He makes a promise to his star student, Marie (Claire-Hope Ashitey), that all will turn out all right and that she and her people will ultimately be saved from the savages. But, without a real defensive force, these are idle words as the Hutu militia mass increases and grows into a sufficient force for the UN to withdraw its troops before they become part of the massacre that seems inevitable.

This demands a moment of decision for the Father and his disciple. Who will go; who will stay; and, who has a reason sufficient to do either? Decisions turn into agonies over the fate of the able and the unable. In this extremity of circumstances, a leader among the sheltered tsutsis begs the UN commander to shoot the children before they leave so as to give them a better death than being hacked into pieces. His idea of mercy.

When the compound is finally abandoned by its protectors, the command is given to the crazed Hutu horde. "Go to work." Indeed, they do. And, what we see in this microcosm of barbarity represents an estimated 800,000 Rwandan victims, mostly Tutsis.

Dancy is a fine looking actor who expresses more conviction and outrage than thespian seasoning. Ashitey is brightly expressive though lost in the crowd as a character for the most part. Others are peripheral, as needed, to stage the re-creation. There aren't many films that are released under three titles and it seems representative of pervasive indecision in the filmmaking itself. The end credits makes an ample point of irony that it was crewed by many survivors of the Tsutsi genocide.

The aim of this would seem to be to make sure you get all the implications of the human atrocity in case director Michael Caton-Jones and his writing staff didn't get all their points across. Despite a true story that generates powerful feelings of rage and insult, and for all its worthy intentions, the film lacks a dramatic craftsman to make it fully engaging.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Comments from readers:
Well written
I've seen the movie and disagree with the review
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I completely disagree. Hotel Rwanda was merely a love story in comparison.

                                                           ~~ Jaquie 



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Disciple and Preacher under extreme life-threatening circumstances.

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