The documentary, exemplary as it was, nonetheless was reflecting on past events, using talking-head interviews with survivours to tell their stories. A fiction film, meanwhile, can recreate the past with sometimes startling verisimilitude, but often runs the risk of plowing over the truth in favour of plot, pacing and dramatic urgency that is the hallmark of any traditional movie. As a very effective device, the film uses Dellaire’s confessions to his therapist to go deeply into the past, bringing up ghosts that continue to haunt him.
What’s remarkable about this third Shake is that it succeeds without resorting to bombast or banality. It’s a very Canadian film in many ways, subtle, intelligent, and bordering on the unremarkable. Yet its this very quiet, subtle retelling that’s all the more effective. There’s no gung-ho in this telling, just the quiet commitment of someone that tried to make a difference when the world looked the other way.
The compelling images were actually shot again in location in Rwanda, and the visuals are often spectacular. The vistas are uniquely foreign, as the usual African locales that stand in for such trouble spots are of course topographically different than where this story actually took place. The performances are top notch, save for a clichéd and unnecessary inclusion of the normally quite excellent Deborah Unger as Emma, a photo journalist trying to provide context to the situation. The film rides on the shoulders of Roy Dupuis, and he’s simply extraordinary, completely inhabiting the character with a quiet rage.
This film is sadly destined to fly under the radar, as it’s almost too good, to honest to the story to have a hook on which to sell it. This is no adrenaline ride, nor is it some angsty, showy look at a man being broken mentally. This is Dellaire’s story, warts and all, and it deserves a far larger audience than it is likely to receive.