Friday, March 16, 2007

Beyond the Gates / (Shooting Dogs) - Movie Review

Beyond the Gates (Shooting Dogs) 2005

Hey, kids! Want to see a good movie about the Rwandan genocide? Anyone? Wait! Where are you going! Sigh. Well, we’ll tell you about it anyway. “Beyond the Gates” (Originally titled “Shooting Dogs” in the U.K.) is the latest flick to tackle the steamy political milieu surrounding the atrocities that occurred in Rwanda in the mid-1990s. As we now know, ‘cause Don Cheadle told us so; roughly one million Rwandans were slaughtered based on their ethnic background. Who wouldn’t want to see another movie that deals with that fun topic?
Now, before you backclick away from us, and log onto your preferred porn site please take a moment to consider the reasons to go see this movie.

1. Michael Caton-Jones. The Scottish born director who helmed the marvelously entertaining “Scandal” in 1989, dealing with the media circus surrounding the legendary “Profumo Sex Scandal” of London’s Swinging Sixties, is also responsible for the absorbing adaptation of Tobias Wolff’sThis Boy’s Life”, featuring blistering turns by Robert De Niro, Ellen Barkin and a very young Leonardo DiCaprio; as well as the solid costume epic “Rob Roy”, which had the gross misfortune of being released the same year as “Braveheart”. Apparently moviegoers only had the time and energy for one Scottish history lesson that year, and they picked the wrong one!

2. John Hurt. The elder statesman of British character actors has been charming audiences and impressing the critics since his early days in the Oscar winning “A Man for All Seasons. A veteran of both “Scandal” and “Rob Roy”, as well as a double Oscar nominee for his beautifully etched supporting turn in Alan Parker’s scalding “Midnight Express” in 1978; and for his lead role as John Merrick in David Lynch’s “The Elephant Man in 1980. Mr. Hurt has over one hundred film roles to his credit, and rarely has he been less than convincing, and often quite brilliant. He is that rare breed of actor who can scale the heights of melodrama with scenery chewing delight and scale down his performances to a grandly eloquent turn. As he does here with his perfectly honed turn as the parish priest who finds himself in charge of hundreds of refugees fleeing the ethnic cleansing of the murderous Hutu militia.

3. Hugh Dancy. This baby faced beauty, has been slowly creeping up the glory clutching ladder of young turks to carve his name into the short roster of young actors to be watched. And while we can think of severely scenarios that we’d like to watch young Mister Dancy in, they usually involve Baby Oil and arm restraints. Thankfully his strong turns in Ridley Scott’sBlack Hawk Down”, the mini-series adaptation of George Eliot’sDaniel Deronda”, and his Emmy nominated role as the Earl of Essex opposite her majesty, Helen Mirren in “Elizabeth I” have earned him respect for his acting chops as well as for his finely chiseled chin. Ahem.

4. The message. Since, the earliest days of flickers – film has often looked to history and some of its darkest passages for its source material. Whether we are being asked to open our eyes to social injustices, the horrors of war or mankind’s eternal commitment to inflict pain upon each other; screenwriters and directors have often tackled subjects that do not scream “Fun Night at the Movies”. But, one must still ask the question - why? For surely, besides the inevitable Awards attention and the feeling of contributing to a “cause”, the subject matter is typically smothered in routine melodramatics or worse, painfully disparate genre theatrics.

The best films containing a political or social message are the ones that manage to impart the horrors of reality, while simultaneously telling a cinematic story that doesn’t undercut the truth or drown the subject in a miasma of false theatrics. In other words, damn few movies.

Beyond the Gates” works beautifully when it dares to show the depths of depravity mankind is capable of committing. Friend turned into enemy, the limp and all too transparent rationale behind the political decisions, the cost of sacrificing one's beliefs. While “Hotel Rwanda” focused on the heroism and bravery of one lone voice amidst the bloody storm, “Beyond the Gates” throws its lens onto the atrocities that were allowed to be committed when the West turned its collective gaze away from the bloodshed.

The setting is the Ecole Technique Officielle in Kigali, a real school where the fictional Father Christopher played by John Hurt and one of his young teachers, Joe Connor portrayed by Hugh Dancy are forced to deal with the horrors when thousands of refugees show up on their doorstep as the killings begin. For as the Hutu militia begin to hack away at the populace with rusty machetes, a small troop of Belgian representatives of UN peacekeepers defends their base at the Ecole and attempts to keep the peace behind the gates.

As the food begins to run out, and disease and panic start to overtake the refugees – the fear of an all out attack by the gathering hordes of Hutus becomes very real. A fear that will grip the refugees and cause them to risk their lives in attempting an escape. It is a horrible moment, when the Hutu descend in a bloodthirsty rage and massacre the few dissenters a few yards from their protective barrier. A moment that painfully foreshadows the remaining refugees inevitable fate.

What this film does manage to do quite well is to depict the painfully blunt order of events that led to the genocide. We watch through young Joe’s eyes as his charmingly rustic town, where he has chosen to help the “underprivileged” begins to fester with ethnic hatred. He runs into a reporter chum who has witnessed the first stirrings of violence and learns of the racial vitriol between the Hutu and the Tutsis. His awareness of the political situation is reflected in Father Christopher’s awakening to the spiritual depravity of his neighbors. Both men are made to reexamine their beliefs in the good of mankind from opposite perspectives. One will learn that “good intentions” are not enough to overcome monstrous obstacles and the other will learn that “faith and trust” are not enough to forgive or to forget acts of violence.

While we can sit back and admire the directorial flair of Caton-Jones, the leading man skills of Hugh Dancy and the quiet grace of John Hurt in one of his better roles, the focus will remain on the horrible acts of cruelty. The final moments after the departure of the UN troops is devastating. We watch as the life saving trucks filled with refugees speed off in a dust cloud, and a Hutu leader yells out for the “work to begin”. The camera remains stationary as the Hutu gunmen and machete wielding murderers cry out with their bloodthirst and begin to run towards the barricades. The screams of the refugees are all that are needed to understand their final fate.

While the coda that follows the massacre may tie up the final bits of storyline, and attempt to rationalize the abandonment of a doomed nation – it doesn’t suffice. We all know deep down in our hearts and minds, why this happened. The Rwandan genocide happened because the West chose to ignore the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent lives. Their skin color, their poverty, their lack of any potentially money making resource for outsiders to exploit dug their collective graves. In the history of mankind, there has never been a “just cause” that propelled a powerful nation to liberate a desperate people from bloodshed. Mighty nations have always invaded other countries in the name of money or power, and never for humanitarian reasons. A simple and painful fact.

As simple and painful as the end credits that reveal some fascinating facts behind the making of this movie that we will leave for the viewer to experience. All we can say is that it is astounding in its ability to hammer at your emotions.

And so dear readers we are faced with the daunting task of recommending a fine British import that dares to expose the still fresh scars of the civilized world’s most recent embarrassing blunder. But, hey, you can all just relax and opt not to see this film. After all it might actually get you to donate money, or call your senator or develop a conscience. Who knows? And if not, you can always wait five or ten years when Reese Witherspoon stars as a plucky gal reporter opposite Ewan McGregor as a lovestruck medical worker in Darfur. You know, once that whole thing has quieted down and we can enjoy a nice watered down version that won’t force us to actually think about it. Bless you all!

Directed by Michael Caton-Jones
Screenplay by David Wolstencroft
Story by Richard Alwyn and David Belton

John Hurt as Father Christopher
Hugh Dancy as Joe Connor
Claire-Hope Ashitey as Marie
Dominique Horwitz as Capitaine Charles Delon
Nicola Walker as Rachel
Steve Toussaint as Roland
David Gyasi as François
Victor Power as Julius
Musa Kasonka Jr. as Boniface
Kizito Ssentamu Kayiira as Pierre

Cinematography by Ivan Strasburg
Film Editing by Christian Lonk
Original Music by Dario Marianelli
Costume Design by Dinah Collin
Production Design by Bertram Strauß
Art Direction by Astrid Sieben
Set Decoration by Dagmar Wessel



Post a Comment

<< Home