This 2005 effort from director Michael Canton-Jones ("This Boy's Life", "City by the Sea") is a moving look at one country's turmoil and some of the characters who suddenly found themselves in the midst of it all. The film focuses on Joe Connor (Hugh Dancy), a young teacher in Kigali, the captial city of Rwanda in 1994. While things are generally peaceful as the film begins, it's not long before tension arises. When the country's president is killed, the Tutsi people of the country are hunted by the Hutu militias.
Many Tutsi people head towards the school run by Father Christopher (John Hurt) where Joe teaches, desperately seeking any sort of safety they can find. Although it dismays the UN forces who are staying at the school, the decision is made to let the crowds outside in. The UN soldiers proclaim they cannot protect the people, as they are only their to monitor the peace, not to keep it, and their rules of engagement prohbits them.
When the situation grows worse, Father Christopher is surprised to find that the UN forces are planning to be evacuated if necessary. Meanwhile, the Hutu militia plans to wipe out the Tutsis. The Hutus eventually start to gather outside, looking for the Tutsis inside. As time wears on, food and supplies start to get scarce and the standoff at the gates grows increasingly tense. When the UN begins to evacuate the foreigners staying at the camp, Joe and Father Christopher have a choice to make - flee for safety or stay with the refugees that have gathered. Eventually, the last of the UN soldiers depart, taking none of the 2,500 refugees with them.
"Beyond the Gates" isn't without some issues, but it works well for the most part, as Hurt's strong, moving performance carries the film nicely. Dancy isn't bad, but his range seems somewhat limited in this role or maybe the role itself just seems somewhat underwritten (or maybe a bit of both.) It's also surprising that really only one of the refugees (played by Claire-Hope Ashitey, from "Children of Men") is given much of a role to play in the film. While there are some facts given about the situation and background, the movie could have gone into a bit more detail about the conflict in Rwanda.
Still, despite those issues, this remains a tense, involving and moving drama due to the film's build-up as the situation gets progressively worse, documentary-style approach and Hurt's excellent performance. "Beyond the Gates" could have developed some of the refugees more and developed the two lead characters a bit further, but as is, this is a troubling and emotional drama looking at this group of refugees who stood together in the midst of a horrific situation.
The rated version arrived for review, but there is also an unrated version of the film available. The difference is, according to the cover at Amazon.com, is that the unrated actually has the harsher language edited out.
VIDEO: "Beyond the Gates" is presented by 20th Century Fox in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. Sharpness and detail are just okay, as the picture can seem moderately soft at times. I thought maybe the film was shot on lower budget digital video, but couldn't find confirmation on whether or not that was the case.
Otherwise, the picture didn't seem too problematic aside from the soft appearance. While some slight artifacting was seen, no edge enhancement, print flaws or other such issues were spotted. Colors looked natural and appeared accurate. Flesh tones also seemed natural, as well.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is quite "open"; while not particularly aggressive, the surrounds are used reasonably well in order to open out the situations into the listing space. The rear speakers mainly deliver ambience, but also some more distinct sound effects and reinforcement of the score. Audio quality was fine, with crisp dialogue and no distortion or other issues.
EXTRAS: A Commentary from director Michael Canton-Jones, as well as a commentary from screenwriter David Wolstencroft and producer David Belton are included. We also get a nearly 40-minute "making of" and a small featurette about what you can do to help people in war-torn communities. There are also trailers for other Fox films.
Final Thoughts: While I didn't agree with some of the choices by the filmmakers, "Beyond the Gates" still stands as a very moving drama with a strong performance by John Hurt. The DVD offers fair video quality and fine audio quality, along with some good extras. A recommended rental.
The Film B