'Hotel Rwanda' ***** 051205
DVD Review (2004)


The Work = *****
Recently I saw the remake of 'Dawn of the Dead'. I enjoyed the film (I’m a big fan of the original) and was particularly impressed with the opening. The film depicts a world turned upside overnight by these zombies. The once safe and orderly society descended into chaos and characters where killed and killing each other in the panic. That sequence really affected me. It seemed so scary that a society could change so drastically over night.

I mention that because as horrifying a fantasy as that was I realize that for many in the world something similar really happened. (Minus the zombies of course.) In 'Hotel Rwanda' I was shown a country who’s landscape changed virtually overnight. Order turned to chaos and widespread atrocities occurred almost in the blink of an eye. The situation must have been terrifying.

A wonderfully moving film, 'Hotel Rwanda' should have been a blockbuster. It’s a shame really, that while it garnered some attention it was not the mega success that it could have been. Now to be fair, it did make 24 million. I don’t know what the budget was but I hope that was enough profit to make it a financial success. Besides, with any luck it is raking in a tidy sum on video.

I suspect that I am not that unusual a case when I say that I didn’t know much about the genocide in Rwanda. Oh sure, I knew there were atrocities associated with a conflict in the area but that is about where my knowledge ends. 'Hotel Rwanda' does a remarkable job of skating between being an entertaining drama and an informative one while somehow not becoming too preachy or too actiony’.

The film follows the real life character of Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle.) He is the Hotel Manager of the best hotel in Rwanda. He watches over dignitaries from around the world, (as well as local politicians,) while they stay at the hotel. He enjoys an upper middle class living and his home, dress, and family life have strong similarities to a Western lifestyle found in the US.

His character reminded me a bit of Rick in Casablanca. The similarity is really only in his work, smoothing over difficulties and working with what he has available he does the best job he can. He becomes a reluctant player during the genocide, housing many at his hotel who would surely have been executed. He wants no part at first but finds he cannot turn people away and eventually risks his life to save all those he can.

There is not a bad performance in the film. Everyone in 'Hotel Rwanda' is exceptional. Cheadle, Nick Nolte, Joaquin Phoenix, David O’Hara (the crazy Irishman from 'Braveheart',) and the rest of the cast all give exceptional performances. They show off near perfect casting on the part of the filmmakers. Of special note is the actress Sophie Okonedo as Paul’s wife Tatiana. Her performance is moving and the range of emotion she convincingly goes through is impressive.

Co-writer and director Terry George managed to create a movie that is informative, moving and filled with tension. He shows the horrors of the atrocities but keeps everything within the PG-13 universe. Doing so could have seemed very contrived and could have ruined the message that the filmmakers were trying to get across. George makes it work, however and I never felt that the images were being cleaned up or censored just to fit into the rating.

I highly recommend 'Hotel Rwanda'. This is a moving film about a real tragedy. I hope it brings attention to the atrocities going on in the area. Great performances, great direction, great, great film.

DVD = ****

The Look
'Hotel Rwanda' gets a great transfer. The film is presented in 2.33:1 anamorphic widescreen. Detail levels looked good to me. Color and contrast also looked good. I say it’s an all around good transfer.

The Sound
The soundtrack on 'Hotel Rwanda' sounded good to me. Sound effects and music came through clearly. The film is presented with a Dolby Digital 5.1 track. Considering this was not something like a Michael Bay movie, the 5.1 mix seemed pretty impressive. There is also a French 2.0 track on the DVD. Subtitles in English, French and Spanish are available.

The Bonus
The extras on 'Hotel Rwanda' are pretty solid. A forced ad raising awareness by Cheadle is on the DVD. It’s annoying that you can’t skip it but it is a worthy cause so I can’t complain. There are a collection of trailers including the one for 'Hotel Rwanda'. A commentary track by George and the real life Rusesabagina focuses mostly on real stories from Rwanda. It is a bit slow and has some gaps but it is still a good commentary. Wyclef Jean who did a song on the soundtrack pops up very, very briefly to share some comments on the track. Cheadle does a track of his own that lasts about 20 min. It’s nice to hear Cheadle talk about the film and he does deliver some interesting info. Actually he pointed out that Okonedo played a prostitute in 'Dirty Pretty Things' and was almost unrecognizably different in that role. There is a short but info packed documentary on the making of the film. Rounding out the features is a documentary following Rusesabagina and his wife as they travel back to Rwanda. The features were all wonderful, especially the one following Rusesabagina and his wife but I wished there had been a bit more on the making of the film. (How they shot it, more interviews with the actors, how it was made on such a low budget.) Some of that is covered in the making of doc' but I wanted more.

All Together = *****
I really, really, enjoyed this film. A moving story anchored by great performances helped make this a winning motion picture. The DVD has a good transfer with pretty good extras. I wanted more on the actors involved but hey you can’t have it all. I would briefly like to mention that George and crew got flack for focusing on one man and making a suspense film.

'Hotel Rwanda' does push some of the details surrounding the atrocities to the background. This does not make light of what happens it simply means the film is not a documentary. George went the route of a thriller and the result is a gripping film that brings light to a tragedy that occurred under the watch of those that did nothing to stop it. Yes there is more to know about the events, so go out and read about it or rent a documentary.

If the film had tried to do everything it surely would have failed on all fronts. I mean honestly, if this film had gone overboard I could see the complaints being more warranted. If George had done something similar to say Michael Bay with the love triangle he added to 'Pearl Harbor'. You know something like: "for those of you who don't think there is enough drama in Rwanda: we've added a love story."

George does no such thing and instead through the eyes of a real life hero George and crew fashioned a moving drama. I loved the performances, the direction, and well pretty much everything about this film. I cannot recommend 'Hotel Rwanda' enough.


'Hotel Rwanda' Links:


UN Foundation Fund for Rwanda

International Fund for Rwanda

Amnesty International

Copyright 2005 - 2012 Nate Bundy. All rights reserved.