Shooting Dogs

2007-04-14 12:12

Over a relatively short period in 1994, the political tensions in Rwanda escalate into full blown ethnic cleansing, and Father Christopher (John Hurt) sees his Catholic mission school in Kigali become a place of refuge for fleeing Tutsis. UN forces stationed there are ordered not to intervene in the escalating violence, and are finally withdrawn, along with all other Europeans, while the genocide happens around them. Christopher and English teacher Joe Connor (Hugh Dancy) must choose whether to flee with them, or wait for almost certain death by the sides of their friends and pupils.


Thematically similar to Hotel Rwanda, and such war films as Schindler’s List, Shooting Dogs deals with ordinary people being thrust into the most horrific events. Unlike many such films, it ends on a far more sober and realistic note, although there is a ray of hope amongst the carnage. Shooting Dogs is obviously heavy going, although it never drags, and it offers up so much more than the running violence or calculated sadism that so many war films try to pass off as substance.

From the deceptively calm beginning, with English teacher Joe joking with the children, and the UN soldiers based at the school playing soccer, Shooting Dogs manages to invoke sympathy for the people whose world is soon to be shattered by violence. The various perspectives on the situation are evenly presented, and give more insight into why such atrocities can happen so easily.

The mistrust of Tutsis is shown by Joe’s Hutu friend well before the violence starts. The reluctance of UN Capitaine Delon (Dominique Horwitz) to disobey orders and intervene in the slaughter, speaks volumes about a political climate where saving lives in a third world country is simply not an option without massive financial incentive. The attitude of first world viewers of the tragedies on TV is grimly summed up by news reporter Rachel (Nicola Walker) who is numb to the situation, and incapable of shedding more tears for “just another dead African.” Through it all, the naïve viewpoint of Joe serves as the anchor to a very nasty reality, in which he goes through worry, panic, denial, horror, and the final choice between his ideals, and self-preservation.

The horror builds slowly, affecting each character differently, as the news of violence and slaughter leaks back to the school. Father Christopher beseeches the soldiers for help, while Joe simply cannot believe what he is hearing, until he witnesses a murder himself, shattering his innocence, and pushing him down a path in which heroics take a backseat to saving his own life.

Shooting Dogs plays out in the most desperate fashion, and there are too many deeply moving moments to mention. The scene in which the refugee spokesperson Roland (Steve Toussaint) begs the departing UN forces to machine gun the children to spare them pain of being hacked to death with machetes is a good example of the extreme circumstances and emotions that abound in the chaos.

This will possibly be the most gut wrenching and moving film you see all year, and despite the decidedly downbeat ending, it still manages to deliver a message of hope. The gore and violence is kept as restrained as possible, considering the subject matter, and the focus is the interaction between characters. I would recommend this to anybody who has the slightest interest in seeing what lies behind the sanitised CNN reports of global violence, or anybody looking to see an intensely moving drama.

It is worth staying for the closing credits, as it gives a brief background to some members of the Rwandan crew, themselves survivors of the genocide, and the losses they suffered.

- Ivan Sadler
Shooting Dogs may look like another unnecessary rehash of the Rwandan genocide, but it's probably as close to the truth as we'll ever get. It may also be the most moving film you see all year.

Bridget Thompson 2007/01/10 3:26 PM
Rwandan genocide through the eyes of the west The only two feature films which I have encountered which deal with the Rwandan genocide from the point of view of Rwandese characters are '100 days' by Eric Kabera, founder of the Rwandan film centre and 'Sometimes in April' by Raoul Peck who also directed the acclaimed 'Lumumba'. '100 days' has shown all around the world at film festivals and been very well received but not been picked up for mainstream distribution. 'Sometimes in April' is quite simply one of the top ten films Ive ever seen. It is both intellectual and compassionate, brilliantly crafted and deeply rooted in the lives of Rwandese people. Perhaps 'Shooting dogs' is a good film but I do get tired of always having the experience and life stories of third world peoples mediated through first world characters and /or the western point of view which was the case with Hotel Rwanda.
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