Beyond the Gates
2006, R, 115 min. Directed by Michael Caton-Jones. Starring John Hurt, Hugh Dancy, Dominique Horwitz, Claire-Hope Ashitey, Nicola Walker, Steve Toussaint.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., June 1, 2007
I have my doubts that this grim account of the slaughter of some 2,500 members of Rwanda's ethnic Tutsi minority who sought refuge from their machete-wielding Hutu countrymen at Kigali's Ecole Technique Officielle in the spring of 1994 will make anyone think twice about, say, Darfur. In media circles, the Rwandan genocide is older than old news, and after Hotel Rwanda, American audiences, in particular, may well choose Shrek over shriek, and who can blame them? Evil ran amok, as evil continues to do, and in the messy choke hold of reality, Peter Parker and Captain Jack Sparrow will forever be hapless against the ever-ready realpolitik of the machete and the madman. Even God is no more successful than his iconic cinematic stand-ins at halting the basest acts of humanity, a point well-made and one that is at the center of Caton-Jones' horrifically authentic film. Beyond the Gates was shot on the actual locations of the events depicted, employed a number of survivors in both crew and acting positions, and it was produced and co-written by BBC cameraman David Belton, who witnessed the slow, agonizing death of hope firsthand. The few times the camera is allowed out of the school compound, cinematographer Ivan Strasburg certainly makes the most of it. Hurt, in his patented, wizened gnome mode, is fine here as the Catholic missionary Father Christopher, who oversees the ramshackle school and who realizes the deadly implications of the Hutu coup far more quickly and astutely than his starry-eyed, idealistic assistant Joe Connor (Dancy). (When pointedly asked by a female friend and BBC reporter why he's in Africa, Connor answers, "I guess I wanted to star in my own Oxfam advert.") As the scrum of madness beyond the gates turns to a crush and the Belgian UN peacekeeping detachment (led by Horwitz in a model of stoic, minimalist acting) proves utterly ineffectual, the film grinds inexorably toward its unsurprising and terrible conclusion with infinite grace but no real suspense. Beyond the Gates bears witness to the worst of the worst, but these days, and far more importantly, so does YouTube. AFS@Dobie