A scene from Shooting Dogs, which is a film about the Rwandan genocide that took place in spring 1994.


Shooting Dogs

Stars: John Hurt, Hugh Dancy

Director: Michael Caton-Jones

Rating: 14A

*** (out of five)


Shooting Dogs is a movie about the Rwandan genocide that took place in the spring of 1994, when that African nation erupted in an insane frenzy of ethnic violence.

In the space of a few months, between 800,000 and one million people were slaughtered by their countrymen, mostly with machetes.

In the midst of the chaos, one spot offers sanctuary — a school run by a Catholic priest (John Hurt) and his young charge (Hugh Dancy), who tried to shelter some 2,500 Tutsi refugees from their Hutu persecutors.

If you saw Hotel Rwanda last year, you know this story; in fact, if you saw Hotel Rwanda, you know it’s possible to tell this specific story without resorting to the white-guy device employed by screenwriter David Wolstencroft, which puts the crisis at a slight remove so that a bunch of Europeans can fret about their impotence in the foreground.

It’s odd, really, how Shooting Dogs works best as a companion piece to Hotel Rwanda; its clumsy conventionality serves to enhance Terry George’s elegant suggestion of inconceivable horrors happening just down the road. (The two films could be taking place across town from one another.)

That clumsy conventionality has become a hallmark of journeyman British director Michael Caton-Jones, who famously said he chose to follow Shooting Dogs with Basic Instinct 2 as a sort of palate cleanser; if you see this film, you’ll understand why goofing around London with an aging sex bomb might have seemed therapeutic afterward.

But if you see Hotel Rwanda, you’ll understand why this material needs someone who isn’t able to shake it off quite so easily.