Following Hotel Rwanda‘s endeavours to tell the world aboutthe Rwanda genocide of 1994, Shooting Dogsrevisits events leading up to the shocking violence. Director MichaelCaton-Jones (Scandal, Memphis Belle, Rob Roy) tells the (partially) truestory of a catholic priest and his school in the Rwandan capital Kigali which becomes asafe haven for thousands of refugees when the Rwandan president is killedand Hutu militia begin to turn on the minority Tutsi civilians.
John Hurt plays the priest. His school is being used by a detachment ofBelgian UN troops as a base from which to monitor the fragile peace in Rwanda. HughDancy (Black Hawk Down) is Joe, fresh faced young teacher, on a gap year of sorts who stays at the school.When the Rwandan president’s plane isbrought down and a coup becomes apparent, the Hutu militia’s attacks onthe Tutsi population leads to the school becoming a safe haven for thepersecuted.
Joe is anupper middle class lad who’s completely unprepared for theresponsibilities and subsequent decisions he has to face as thesituation erupts around him. Having naively promised his favouritestudent Marie that everything will be okay for her and her family, heis then faced with the choice of escaping with the exiting UN troops orstaying to almost certain death with the Tutsi refugees, now completelyunprotected from the preying Hutus surrounding the school.
There’s a lot of controlled anger in the film, not simply aimed atthe machete-wielding Hutu militia but at the impotent UN, whose troopsnot only fail to act in the midst of the genocide, but are ordered topull out when it starts looking dangerous. The film shows how UNCapitaine Delon (played by Dominique Horwitz) is under mandate not tomaintain peace, or even protect civilians, but to simply ‘monitor’ thesituation as it degenerates.
Similarly, Rachel, a BBC war journalist reporting on the situation(played by Nicola Walker, who manages to look like a young, cockneyKate Adie), shockingly vocalises the West’s attitude to thegenocide when she compares her own reaction to what she felt whenreporting the Bosnian genocide: “Any time I saw a dead Bosnian woman Ithought that could be my mum – but here they’re just dead Africans”.
Dancy puts on an impressive performance as Joe while Hurt, as usual, provides exactly the right combination of gravitasand humanity in his role as a pretty saintly figure who gives his lifeto save a group of Tutsi children from the Hutu machetes. This providesthe film, for all of its harrowing subject matter, with a chink of hopeat the end, particularly when it becomes apparent that these escapeessurvived. Even more touching is the fact that many people working onthe film are survivors who lost friends and family during themassacre.
Shooting Dogs is an astonishing and important film which everyone should go see; notonly to learn about what happened in Rwanda, but to also appreciate awell-crafted, well-acted movie that examines the difficultdecisions people are forced to make in extreme situations. Ichallenge you not to be affected by its power.