Shake Hands With the Devil

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Toronto International Film Festival

TORONTO -- The last time we saw a portrayal of French-Canadian Lieutenant Romeo Dallaire, it was in 2005's "Hotel Rwanda," where he looked an awful lot like Nick Nolte, playing a character called Col. Oliver.

But that acclaimed film essentially rendered the horrific events of the Rwandan genocide as seen through the eyes of hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina.

Now, Dallaire's point of view, as the overseer of that ill-fated 1993 United Nations peace-keeping initiative, gets its very own screen time in "Shake Hands with the Devil," with Canadian actor Roy Dupuis given the assignment.

Unfortunately, in the hands of director Roger Spottiswoode ("Tomorrow Never Dies," "Turner & Hooch"), working from a script by Michael Donovan, the telling proves to be an episodic and stoically talky affair, devoid of the raw drama and human emotion that made "Hotel Rwanda" so compelling.

The end result plays like a particularly bland TV movie and, with the exception of Canada, where the film is being distributed theatrically by Seville Pictures, the smaller screen will likely be a better fit in other markets.

Based on Dallaire's memoirs, "Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda," which also inspired a sturdy 2005 documentary, the film begins with Dallaire, dispatched by the United Nations to keep the peace, arriving in Rwanda with keen determination and an appreciation for the country's natural beauty.

But the cracks that are already evident in that peace treaty between the minority Tutsi-led rebels and the French-supported majority Hutu government give way to all-out terror when the president's plane is shot down.

While Dallaire tries mightily to curb the escalating violence, he also finds himself fighting a losing battle with his superiors, with his forces instructed to raise their weapons only if fired upon.

Defying orders to return home, Dallaire lets his conscience be his guide -- and almost loses his mind in the process.

Although Dupuis brings a firm commitment to his portrayal, the fact-based characters as a whole lack dimension, while Deborah Kara Unger's part as an American TV reporter seems to have been edited down to the point of insignificance.

Despite being filmed in many of those actual Rwandan locations, "Shake Hands with the Devil" is frustratingly distancing.

Where "Hotel Rwanda" dropped the viewer into the middle of the chaos and horror, Spottiswoode has you watching from the sidelines.  Perhaps that was deliberate -- to show how Dallaire must have felt with his hands so completely tied -- but it robs the picture of potential power.

So, too, does a psychiatrist's office framing device, which brings back all of Dallaire's painful memories, but the resulting flipping back and forth has a similar distancing effect.
    
SHAKE HANDS WITH THE DEVIL
Halifax Film/DHX Media/Barna-Alper Prods./Seville Prods.

Director: Roger Spottiswoode
Writer: Michael Donovan
Based on the book by Lieutenant General Romeo Dallaire
Producers: Michael Donovan, Laszlo Barna
Executive producers: David Reckziegel, Martin Katz, Steven Silver, Neil Tabatznik
Co-Executive Producers: Phil Hunt, Compton Ross, Sunmin Park
Director of photography: Miroslaw Baszak
Production designer: Lindsey Hermer-Bell
Music: David Hirschfelder
Co-producers: Floyd Kane, Margaret O'Brien
Costume designer: Joyce Schure
Editors: Michel Arcan, Louis-Martin Paradis

Cast:
General Romeo Dallaire: Roy Dupuis
Ghanian General Henry Anyidoho: Owen Lebakeng Sejake
Major Brent Beardsley: James Gallanders
Prime Minister of the Peace Government: Odile Katesi Gakire
American Reporter Emma: Deborah Kara Unger
Bernard Kouchner: Jean-Hugues Anglade

MPAA rating: Not yet rated, running time 113 minutes

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