The UK title of "Beyond the Gates" is "Shooting Dogs." It refers to a key scene in this retelling of events during the Rwandan genocide in 1994 when a missionary (John Hurt) working in the capital Kigali confronts a stony UN commander. As the world now knows, the UN had a mandate merely to observe the peace, not to enforce it. As the commander repeats, they could fire only if fired upon and largely stood by as Hutus slaughtered Tutsis. In "Gates," when dogs feeding on the hacked-up corpses become a health concern, the commander orders them shot. Hurt, summoning a mouthful of spitty indignation, demands to know whether the dogs had shot at them first.
There are terrific scenes like this throughout "Beyond the Gates," but compared to the more widely seen "Hotel Rwanda," the new film's contribution is only detail. The stories are very similar. "Gates" centers on the Kigali school Ecole Technique Officielle, where instructor Joe Conner (Hugh Dancy) has made friends with both Tutsis and Hutus. Unfortunately, Joe is a very thin character -- like Hurt's missionary and most of the other major figures, he's constructed to witness and not a whole lot more. When the violence begins, he's particularly horrified to see a Hutu friend (David Gyasi) wave to him with one hand while holding a bloody machete in the other, a smart way to bring home the reality of this atrocity. The victims had loved ones, but so did the killers.
There are other such revealing moments, but "Gates" becomes frustrating without any real people to cling to. Based on the experiences of BBC journalist and witness David Belton, the story also is locked into the perspective of an outsider, and one wishes to move beyond the hand-wringing of the good people who tried to help and get out amid those unfortunate souls killing and being killed. "Beyond the Gates" is a better title, but despite some excellent insights, it doesn't go far enough in that direction. (R)