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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Hate Crimes > Political > Hotel Rwanda

Hotel Rwanda


Picture: B-     Sound: B-     Extras: B+     Film: B+



Any time an important film comes out about something bad happening in another country where people are getting killed, why must so many people have the selfish reaction: Why should I care?  Is it because they feel like it is not happening to them that they should not do or say anything or trouble will start for them?  Is it emotional and/or mental laziness?  Is it racism?  Is it actually hitting a nerve closer to home?  Terry George’s Hotel Rwanda (2004) was one of last years best films, yet it did not do as much business as two other great films that got all the critical acclaim: martin Scorsese’s amazing The Aviator and Clint Eastwood’s stunning Million Dollar Baby.


The answer to all the above questions is yes in just about all cases, as we do not like to generalize around here.  Of course, it sadly took 9/11/01’s attack for some Americans to wise up and realize otherwise, but we can blame the powerful news media in this country for ignoring the story.  This is something that cannot be blamed on the mythical “liberal media” or ultra-conservative corporations that own the actual outlets.  Instead, it is about a deeper sense of ignorance and thinking we are above mortality, but this film does a great job of showing otherwise and why ignoring the problem accelerates it.


Don Cheadle, one of the finest actors of his generation, takes on the lead role of the hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina.  He juggles everything and everyone, from local people to elite money and power types.  However, a new civil war is about to set in, inspired in part by a horrific 24-hour radio broadcast urging killing.  Thousands of machetes are coming in from China and the bloodshed is not far away.  He does his best to handle the worst, then it gets so bad, he has to take matters into his hand more extremely.  Cheadle does a haunting job of playing Rusesabagina.


Joaquin Phoenix is a reporter who wants to tell the story, though he keeps getting distracted by women.  Nick Nolte is the realist U.S. military head who can really see what little the U.N. or U.S. will do.  Rusesabagina is at first naïve to think the U.N. will help and the peace agreement would automatically hold because it was signed.  He was never more wrong in his life.  Instead of the same old story and genocidal results, and the genocide was real and massive, the screenplay by Keir Pearson and George is more interested in finer details.  As Rusesabagina discovers what is really going on, over 1,200 refugees are in his hotel.  The terror raiding went on for 100+ days.


Cheadle has done dozens of supporting roles, but he shines in this all too rare lead, showing vulnerability, intelligence and emotional depth as a man who was trying to do the best thing and right thing while constantly putting his life in jeopardy.  He even falls in love with an amazing woman (Sophie Okonedo) who he sensibly falls in love with.  When things get bad, he realizes his emotional investment was for keeps.


A long time ago, Hollywood used to be great enough to make this kind of film all the time.  This is not a message film as much as a story film and has no formula to it, just the telling of one of the most important stories of the last ten years you have not heard about.  The whole thing is an international disgrace and millions literally paid for it with their lives.  This is fine, remarkable filmmaking and one of the few films of the last 25 years that deserves to claim the tagline “based on a true story” without exploiting it and throwing just anything up on screen.  This is a film about dignity with dignity and we cannot get enough of that anywhere today.


The anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image was shot by Robert Fraisse and is a fine use of scope framing that does not look like it was compromised for TV.  The look, down to the color schemes and location shooting, is like nothing we have seen before.  The result is that a world is created like few films before in a way that makes this seem far more realistic than any TV news broadcast.  The slaughter is never shown on screen, but you can see and feel it in the atmosphere of the look that is clever in slowly unraveling the nightmare.


Sound is also used exceptionally well, presented here in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo with Pro Logic surrounds and a better 5.1 mix.  Andrea Guerre, Rupert Gregson-Williams and the Afro Celt Sound System provide the music score, and all is presented well here, but no DTS track here is especially disappointing because it would further hit home the story.  This is still one of MGM’s best sound DVD lately.


Extras include an audio commentary by George and the real Rusesabagina, select comments by Wyclef Jean of The Fugees, and select comments by Cheadle.  Trailers for this and other MGM tiles, plus two featurette documentaries are included.  One is on the making of the film at about 28 minutes, while the other is a trip back to Rwanda that last a brief-but-rich 14 minutes.  Outside of the promos, all the extras just add more layers to a fine film.  When I was finished, I realized the media still failed to tell this story and could still care less about who got killed.  Fortunately, Hotel Rwanda is a brave film that everyone should watch.  If you are in the vast majority who has not seen it, only ignorance can stop you.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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