First off, I have not seen Shake Hands with the Devil, but I feel as though I should have.
The subject of child soldiers in our world deserves a great documentary, unfortunately this film is not that documentary.
The film is ostensibly based on Romeo Dallaire’s book of the same title. That is all well and good, but some things that work on the page do not work on screen. Since I have not read the book, I have no idea whether or not the fictionalized parts involving Dallaire imagining himself as child soldier worked as a literary device in his book – I have my doubts to their effectiveness – but they do not work as part of a documentary. These parts are put on screen using stylized animation and sound-effects; they may have made an interesting, perhaps even compelling, short film – it’s likely not strong enough material for a feature – but as part of a documentary they distract.
Then we have the problem of whether or not this film is about Dallaire and his book – we get shots of his book tour and his life at his cottage – the trip he undertook to write the book or the problem of child soldiers in general. I would suggest all our separate topics for films, but the filmmakers think we should cover all of them. And as Janine Loves Books pointed out, Dallaire comes across as fairly naive about the systemic issues causing child soldiering, despite his experiences in Rwanda; and that makes him an odd lens through which to view the issue. (Multiple times he is told – and / or we are told – that child soldiers will exist so long as conflict in this region exists and he just doesn’t want to listen. He thinks people can keep fighting with a ban on child soldiering.)
So the film is a mess. But despite this, it contains some extraordinarily powerful testimony from various child soldiers or people affected by the use of child soldiers. The film’s most powerful moment probably comes form Dallaire himself, when he is asked whether or not the UN soldier in his fictionalized section of the book is him and he won’t answer.
So this is all to say that there is a great movie in there somewhere, but unfortunately the filmmakers lost it in their attempts to do many things at once. All the more bizarre given it’s below-average run-time of 83 minutes.