If you're looking for a popcorn flick, Shake Hands with the Devil isn't it. It's a thought provoking and eerie take on one man's experience during the Rwandan genocide. A story set against this horrifying and very real backdrop isn't going to be easy to handle but director Roger Spottiswoode manages to do it respectfully in a fashion that leaves a haunting impression on the viewer.
The movie focuses primarily on the Force Commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR), Romeo Dallaire (played by Roy Dupuis), over the course of approximately 100 days in 1994. In that time, Rwanda was the site for the mass killing of hundreds of thousands of Rwanda's Tutsi population by the extremist Hutu majority. It is arguably one of the worst human rights violations in human history.
Having studied these events in school, I was very interested in the film when I came across it. Let me tell you: this film doesn't disappoint. It delivers on everything I was hoping it would. The directing, acting, and production on this film were all superb.
For those of you that aren't familiar with the events that occurred, don't be scared away. The story is explained in a way that is very easy to process. At no point did I feel lost or like I needed a guide book to explain the politics involved, but the film at the same time still managed a very authentic and real feel in how it portrayed these events.
Being that it was produced in Canada with funding in part by Telefilm Canada, Shake Hands with the Devil is obviously lacking the production values of Hollywood, but that is probably one of the film's strengths. Spottiswoode effectively manages to convey the horror of living through these terrible events without showing, much less spilling, any blood.
Instead, the director litters the streets with dead bodies. We rarely see any acts of violence, but as the movie progresses, the streets become more littered with bodies. As Dallaire gets closer and closer to cracking under the stress of what he's witnessing, the city around him parallels his descent into madness as it appears more and more destroyed. It's the kind of psychological fear that, when done right, leaves a lasting impression on people. It did on me.
Special Features: Despite my immensely enjoying the movie, I was actually quite disappointed in the DVD itself. There are only three special features on the disc: a short 15-minute documentary on the making of this film and two audio commentaries, one of which is done by Spottiswoode and Romeo Dallaire himself. I initially considered it to be the most intriguing of the three special features, but I must say that I was quite disappointed in the commentary by Dallaire.
The Making Of feature was an interesting piece to watch. The movie was filmed almost entirely in Rwanda in many of the exact same locations that these events occurred. The house used for Dallaire's house in the film was in fact the one he lived in when these events occurred. The extras in the film are all native Rwandans, and had actually lived through the genocide. The documentary is very candid when interviewing them, and doesn't conceal the negative feelings that some citizens have about the film. Unfortunately, it's just a little too short to make this a worthwhile DVD purchase.
Movie: 4 out of 5
DVD: 2.5 out of 5