Wednesday, March 22, 2006

SHOOTING DOGS - another sop to liberal guilt

Where to begin with SHOOTING DOGS? Perhaps with some fundamental questions about how we expect film-makers to deal with historical subjects. My view is that artists are under no obligation to stick religiously to the truth, if there can be "a truth". I am not the kind of person to have a fit when we see Americans winning the Second World War single-handed. I am saddened that for many people movies are their only source of historical education, but hey, Hollywood is not here to compensate for shortfalls in the education system or man's reluctance to pick up a history book. Having said all this, while I do not require that a movie treats history with respect, I find it hard to take a movie seriously that claims to educate/remind/show us *what really happened* and then messes up. Think of it as consumer-oriented movie-going. I don't ask for anything more than guns and car chases, but if the director wants to go all high-brow, he sure as hell should get his facts straight.

All of which is a long lead up to my first criticism of the movie SHOOTING DOGS; it plays fast and loose with the admittedly complex history of the Rwandan genocide despite claiming to treat a serious subject with sensitivity and respect. Let me break it down: if your only knowledge of the Rwandan genocide came from watching SHOOTING DOGS you would think that the Hutus were the murderers, the Tutsis were the victims, the UN were a bunch of racist cowards and that the BBC were marvellous, gallant, brave etc. In reality, while Hutus did murder Tutsis, similarly Kagame's Tutsis murdered Hutus. The UN may have withdrawn but this was because among others, the US did not allocate any troops. And before you think I am having an anti-US moment, this was, as I understand it, partly because Kagame refused to co-operate with a UN army sent in to protect his own people! As for the role of the BBC and other journos, and the motives of the BBC in funding this piece of hackery, you can find further information
here. Suffice to say that this is all complex stuff, and I am sure that I am also simplifying horribly. Then again, I have no pretensions to bring this issue to the forefront of the media.

Anyways, if we take it as read that this movie bears no more resemblance to what actually happened in Rwanda than U-571 resembles how World War Two was actually won, we are left with the following key question: Is SHOOTING DOGS any good as cinema? If you just watch it as a fictional drama, does it hold your interest? On this score, I have to give it a qualified thumbs up. First, the flaw. The movie focuses on a nice young Englishman played by pretty-boy, Hugh Dancy. Dancy is the decent everyman character through which we are meant to experience the extreme and frightening unfolding of the genocide. Over the course of the film we see his romantic optimistic nature frozen into hopeless cynicism. The problem is that Dancy's character arc is one that we have seen in many a "fish-out-of-water" movie and Dancy's limited acting talent brings nothing extra to the part. Of course, the film more than compensates by giving us the wonderful John Hurt as a world-weary priest. His character has plenty of nuance - although I am not sure the screenwriter intended that to be the case. Although he is fundamentally a morally upright individual who looks upon the massacre with horror, he is still one of those missionaries whose charity is for the convert alone. At any rate, Hurt brings the kind of weight and seeming authenticity that a film like this requires. In addition, I liked the photography very much and while I strongly believe that it is part of the "magic" of cinema that any location can be made to seem like any other with the right "bag of tricks", there was something eery in knowing that the movie was shot on location in Kigali. The combination of the great photography and John Hurt's performance sucked me into the picture, and I found myself carried away by just those simplistic emotions that the film-makers were presumably aiming for: outrage, guilt, but finally the feeling that, well, we did go see the film after all, and we felt really BAD, so that means we are okay human beings, right?? Right?

SHOOTING DOGS premiered at Toronto 2005 and is currently on release in France. It goes on limited release in the UK on March 31st. There is no reported US release date which I guess you could read something into: either US distributors think there is no market in the US for this kind of liberal, internationalist material about Africa and/or they simply think the film is no good. Answers on the back of a postcard, please....


  1. A very well-written review.

  2. Sadly, I found your review painfully superficial and offensively inaccurate. I realise your's is just one opinion, but really, you should think more before you drivel. You speak with all the self importance of the semi well-read but still painfully ignorant and your "understanding" of the situation in Rwanda, as you put it, is simply erroneous. As far as I can see your underlying prejudices and preconceptions have blinded you somewhat from what the filmakers appear to have been saying. The self importance of your intellectual grandstanding sounds convincing for the uninitiated but the glib superficiality of your prose finally gets gets the better of you with a spectacularly fatuous last sentence.
    However, that's just my opinion.

    The link you supply is interesting but even more interesting is the reply that appeared a week later.,,1739789,00.html

    Educate yourself.

  3. How can you say, "similarly Kagame's Tutsis murdered Hutus"?

    Where was the genocide of nearly one-million Huutu's? Where are the bodies lining the streets? Where are the machete's flying?

    While Paul Kagame's regime has been guilty of repressive measures and some human rights violations, it is nothing compared to the actions by Huutu militia, and to attempt to equate the two sides is dishonest and offensive.

  4. As a liberal I feel guilty that films like this are getting made. No.. wait...