Fox // 2004 // 122 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // June 8th, 2011
A true story.
Based on a true story, Rwanda's native Hutus and the Tutsis have had a long standing rivalry based on Belgian colonizers who separated the two ethnicities by the width of their noses, body height and skin color. In 1994 these conflicts came to a head as the Hutu militants attempted to wipe the Tutsis off the face of the planet. As genocide rumbled through Rwanda, neighborhoods became wastelands and innocents were slaughtered by the thousands. Hotel Rwanda focuses on one man, Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle, Ocean's Twelve), manager of the upscale Hotel des Milles Collines. Paul sees the slaughter coming and moves swiftly to make sure his wife (Sophie Okonedo, Martian Child) and children are moved to safety. Yet when Paul sees that other nations won't intervene in the mass murder of his people, the tenacious manager opens up his hotel to over one thousand refugees looking for safety from the vicious military death march outside their doors.
Hotel Rwanda is a powerful film and gripping in its portrayal of a country slipping into utter madness. Much like the characters in the film, we the viewers ask ourselves, 'How could such an atrocity have taken place? How could a group of people get to a point where a final solution is to take out another group through genocidal slaughter?' What happened in Rwanda in the mid 1990s is baffling, horrific and a terrible waste of human life. Although far more complex than can be summed up in a short review, the fact remains that the reason the Hutus wanted to kill the Tutsis was because they were different than them; a reason that goes beyond any human understanding for this kind of mass murder. Amidst the chaos and death, one man stood tall as an oasis of hope: Paul Rusesabagina.
Hotel Rwanda makes the smart choice of not trying to focus on the entire war between the Hutus and Tutsis and instead holds squarely on Paul Rusesabagina and his scramble to save as many people as he can. Paul's story is as gripping and tense as any Hollywood movie in recent memory -- and even more incredibly, it's all true. Interestingly, Paul himself was not some superhero or Stallone-esque savoir; he was just a plain hotel manager whose skills as bargaining, pleading and hospitality helped him keep his family and the refugees alive until the genocide was over. This is a man who knows how to get what is needed in a calm, collected manner. He does not fight with the military or attempt a revolt -- he's just looking to keep his hotel residents alive for as long as possible. That in and of itself is true courage and a heavy life lesson; sometimes we don't need to wage a battle to win the war.
Director Terry George is no stranger to thoughtful, adult oriented fare including In The Name of the Father, The Boxer and Reservation Road. Hotel Rwanda continues this trend by giving George an inspirational story that never feels overly sappy or conventional. The world of Rwanda is one little seen on film, and while the movie shows the horrors it also lingers on normal, everyday people who love their families and neighbors and are just looking for a place to survive. Although Hotel Rwanda could have easily become a movie of scope, George doesn't linger on the atrocities happening around Paul and his people (only a few moments of horror are displayed during the film's run time which earned the film a teen friendly PG-13 rating); this is a movie about one man's quest to help others, and the screenplay sticks to that as closely as it can.
Don Cheadle earned an Oscar nomination in 2004 for his performance, and it was a well deserved accolade. Cheadle plays Paul as a man who knows what he is good at: being a terrific host. Paul knows that when even a friendly military leader stops by for a drink, filling his briefcase with a couple of bottles of high end whiskey can only bring about good things. This ends up being the case when Paul finds himself in desperate situations -- his bargaining skills come in handy as he barters for the lives of other Tutsis being oppressed by the military. Paul is never shown as a perfect man -- he doesn't stand up to evil as much as skirts around it so he can keep others alive. It's this idea that gives the movie it's power; normal, every day men can make a difference. It's a poignant lesson about compassion and humanity in the face of horror. Cheadle's performance is never showy or hammy but grounded solidly in reality -- this is the kind of understated performance only a superb actor can produce. His supporting cast -- including Nick Nolte as an American military official who wants to help but finds his hands tied -- do a great job of rounding out the film's realistic atmosphere.
Hotel Rwanda is an inspiring movie about dignity and courage in the face of evil. It's also a rarity, a movie that Hollywood often seems intent on avoiding. Here's hoping that film producers and studios take more changes on 'little' films like Hotel Rwanda.
Hotel Rwanda is presented in 2.35:1 widescreen in 1080p resolution. Initially Hotel Rwanda was a Best Buy exclusive, and collectors were wary -- would releasing a Blu-ray to just one store translate to diminished image and audio? To this I say breathe easy! These retailer exclusive discs often look excellent, and Hotel Rwanda is no exception -- Fox/MGM has done a fine job of making sure this transfer is crisp, clear and full of solid colors and black levels. Fans of the film will be very happy with the way this image turned out.
The soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 in English. The fidelity here is wonderfully rendered with a moving and often compelling musical score by Andrea Guerra, Rupert Gregson-Williams and the Afro Celt Music System. The film itself isn't heavy on action or explosions -- many of the rear speakers are utilized either by the music cues or ambient background noises. Overall this is a fine soundtrack reproduction that serves the film well. Also included on this disc is a Spanish Dolby 2.0 mix and a French 5.1 mix, as well as English, Spanish and French subtitles.
A few extra features (most ported over the original DVD release) are included on this disc. The best is "A Message for Peace: Making Hotel Rwanda" which features a generous amount of behind-the-scenes footage as well as interviews with the director, the cast and the real Paul Rusesabagina (who was thrilled to have a movie made of his story). Also included is a short "Return to Rwanda" featurette, a commentary track with director Terry George and Rusesabagina, select commentary by musician Wyclef Jean and select scene commentary with Don Cheadle.
Hotel Rwanda is an inspiring movie which shows that ordinary men can triumph over extraordinary circumstances. Recommended.
Review content copyright © 2011 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 122 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13