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HOTEL RWANDA

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Don Cheadle, Sophie Okonedo, Joaquin Phoenix, Nick Nolte
Director: Terry George
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: MGM
Features: See Review
Length: 122 Minutes
Release Date: April 12, 2005

"I cannot leave these people to die."

Film ****

When a film is able to produce an effect of such deep sorrow, there is no questioning its importance and its demanding of an audience's complete attention. Hotel Rwanda is such a film. Watching it produced two effects on me; one was the awareness that I was witnessing before me a most passionate piece of filmmaking, the other was that of shame resulting from the near-global ignorance of the events which the film depicts.

The film has been compared to Schindler's List, and truth be told, director/co-writer Terry George's film should be considered equal in every aspect to Spielberg's masterwork. One distinction between the two films is the fact that the events in this film are lesser known than that of the Holocaust. Granted, I was a much younger individual, and just beginning high school, during the mid-90s, but I simply can't help but fell shameful to discover that our country, along with most of the world, ignored what was going on in Africa during this time.

That's why Hotel Rwanda serves a much stronger purpose. It's to remind us all of one of the most horrific events to ever occur, and that awareness can emerge from those who see it. For all we know, such an incident could ignite again...there's simply no telling. In some ways, such conflicts are still going on as we speak.

The film presents a stirring account of a frenetically increasing war amongst two clashing African races; the Hutu and the Tutsi. The year is 1994, and the number of senseless slaughters is escalating. Hutu extremists are in control of Rwanda, and their primary goal is to rid the land of any and all who are Tutsi.

Caught in the middle of the bloody conflict is Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle), the manager of Kigali's five-star, Hotel Milles Collinese. Paul, himself, is a Hutu and happens to be happily married to a Tutsi, Tatiana (Sophie Okonedo), so the massacre to him seems ultimately senseless. He sees no other choice but to provide safe haven to the thousands of Tutsi women and children, all the while using his business ethics to prevent further tragedy from occurring.

There is U.N. representation in the form of Col. Oliver (Nick Nolte). Despite his best efforts to alert superiors for some kind of intervention, he is largely ignored and must do what he can on his own. He has been rendered totally helpless, but vows to keep the peace.

 Two reporters are also on hand to document as much of the atrocities as possible. One of them, Jack (Joaquin Phoenix), honestly feels that no matter what disturbing footage makes it to broadcast news, the American public will largely ignore the situation. He states to Paul very plainly, "If people see this footage, they'll say ‘oh my god, that's horrible' and then go on eating their dinners."

What is so amazing to note about Paul Rusesabagina is the methods he goes to in order to save the many lives he did. He basically saved lives by putting his duties as a hotel manager to good use. Paul bargains with the Hutu armies. He provides them with endless amounts of beer and good-quality cigars. When supplies run out, he then turns to money to keep them satisfied. These gestures quickly elevate to that of pure deception. There's no doubt in my mind that any one of us would turn to such actions, if we were given the means, had we'd been in Paul's shoes.

Like Schindler's List before it, Hotel Rwanda does drive home the horror and sadness of the events depicted. Despite a PG-13 rating, there's no question that it limits were tested in a number of downright effective scenes. A sequence where Paul slips and falls into a ditch filled left and right with dead bodies is perhaps one of the most emotionally shattering moments in any movie. We are right there with him and are shocked, as he is, to see that any such act could be committed by any human, let alone any race.

In the lead role, Don Cheadle delivered what was truly one of the great performances of 2004, if not THE BEST. I was most happy to see the countless recognition he received for his extraordinarily human performance, in the form of an Oscar and Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor. Though it was clearly Jamie Foxx's time for the award, there has been no denying the level of acclaim Cheadle has gotten, and thoroughly deserved.

Hotel Rwanda is a work of pure passion and brilliance. One of last year's truly great films, it's an important piece that everyone should see. The story itself seemed to have been forgotten at the time it occurred, and this film serves as a chance for those who aren't very aware of it to open their eyes to a tale of darkness and beautiful inspiration.

Video ****

MGM delivers a most outstanding video handling of a film where the look and setting are a big key element. The anamorphic picture is that of a flawless, ultimately crisp image which never shows a hint of any flaw. The African setting is given a tremendous look and feel, made even effecting through this grand presentation. Detail is most terrific, and both daytime and nighttime shots are extremely well rendered. Fantastic job!

Audio ***1/2

Though the film is, for the most part, a dialogue driven piece, there are segments that put the 5.1 mix to extraordinary use. Most sequences consist of crowd noise, which take hold of the surround system with great effect. Additional scenes, in which tragedy ensues, due deliver an effect through that of periodic gun fire and explosions. The music score, provided by Andrea Guerra and Rupert Gregson-Williams, also provides a monumental audio effect.

Features ***1/2

MGM provides a nice list of extras to accompany this release, starting with a commentary track with director/co-writer Terry George and the real life Paul Rusesabagina, including select scene commentary by Wyclef Jean. There's also scene select commentary with Don Cheadle, two intriguing documentaries, "A Message of Peace: The Making of Hotel Rwanda" and "Return to Rwanda". Rounding out the disc is a theatrical trailer and bonus previews.

Summary:

If there was ever a film to illustrate the importance of world peace, Hotel Rwanda is that film. A moving, emotionally shattering piece that is very much one of the most important motion pictures to ever be made. It's one that deserves your undivided attention.

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