Review: Beyond the Gates

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When I saw Beyond the Gates, it was called Shooting Dogs and that title for me was unforgettable. Why, you might ask? Because of what it means in the context of the film.

First of all, let me tell you what the film is about, then I will explain. Trust me, I am going somewhere with that statement.

Based on a true story, Beyond the Gates tells the story of two Catholic priests who find themselves caught during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. One of the priests is a frustrated and elderly priest (John Hurt), and the other is an idealistic and young priest (Hugh Dancy) who is new to his calling. The massacre is about to take place and the priests have one decision to make: stay with the flock or flee. It is that simple. Or is it?

There have been many films in recent years about the ravages of genocide on the African continent, including films like the brilliant Hotel Rwanda with Don Cheadle and the Oscar-winning The Last King of Scotland. But like both those films, we feel helpless as just an average everyman is caught up in the mess that is the extinction of an entire race of human beings for whatever mundane purpose. Genocide doesn't make sense anyway you shake it, and that is what makes us feel so entirely helpless during these films.

I think the reason I was so caught up in this film was because it felt like a countdown had begun, and witnessing the triumph of the human spirit in the bleakest of odds makes me feel so good inside. And this film is that kind of film.

Not to mention the brilliant performances of both Hurt and Dancy. Hurt is one of those often over-looked actors that so many have forgotten, or they still remember him from that scene in Alien. The man has always been brilliant in my eyes.

The film was originally released in 2005 in the United Kingdom and it is kind of sad it took this long to make it over to this side of the pond. The film's original title, Shooting Dogs, refers to the actions of UN soldiers, who would shoot at the stray dogs that scavenged the bodies of dead. During the whole Rwanda affair, UN soldiers couldn't shoot the people committing the genocide, which would have made sense, but it was that kind of situation. The original title is quite literal in its meaning and more poignant to what the film is about. The new, watered-down title holds no reflection to the plight in the film. I hate it when they change titles so as to not offend anyone or assume the audience is stupid.

It is a brilliant little film under whatever title and you should keep an eye out for it. (4 out of 5) So Says the Soothsayer.

Tags: Beyond the Gates, John Hurt, Rwanda, genocide, UN

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