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"Hotel Rwanda"

Directed by Terry George.
Written by Keir Pearson and Terry George.
Starring Don Cheadle, Sophie Okonedo, Joaquin Phoenix and Nick Nolte.
Release Year:  2004
Review Date:  1/25/05


I had a freebie to go check out "Hotel Rwanda" back in September, but never had the chance to make it over to the flickhouse.  I recently had the chance to finally check this thing out, and damn, it was worth the wait.

"Hotel Rwanda" tells the story of Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle), a cautious hotel owner that has come to a place of power in his native Rwanda by using his power in the services industry to make all friendly-like with local politicians, touristy rich guys, diplomats and army officials.  All is sunny in the world in the early '90s when revolt strikes Rwanda--Tutsis and Hutus are REALLY not getting along, to the tune of a genocide that leaves piles of corpses throughout the Rwandan countryside.  When Tutsis fleeing the strife of Hutu rebels seek refuge, Paul decides to use his extra space to house as many of the Tutsis as he can...and, well, things get just plain hellish from there as Paul tries to save the lives of his fellow countrymen.

I'll admit--"Hotel Rwanda" taught me a lot, because my recollection of the 1994 genocide depicted here is quite fuzzy.  But, by giving us just one angle to the slaughter, director Terry George (who also wrote "The Boxer" and "Hart's War") gives us a great movie that could be a docudrama or it could just be a made-up-war didn't really matter to me, because as a movie, its power doesn't necessarily draw from the fact that we know these events to be real.  Just watching innocent people in danger from the get-go makes the whole damned thing super-tense, and the mix of quiet moments between Paul and his wife Tatiana (Sophie Okonedo, like Cheadle nominated for an Oscar) with edge-of-my-seat moments like an attempted transport by U.N. soldiers to get Tutsis from the hotel to the Tanzania  I found myself wondering how crazy it must have been to be vacationing anyplace where tragedy suddenly erupts, be it a genocide or a tsunami or anything in-between.  Then, as you watch Paul during a sequence where he is separated from Tatiana and their children, you wonder what a man goes through as he tries to balance saving the lives of hundreds and saving the lives of his core family members.

I remember the first time I saw Cheadle in a film; that was "Devil in a Blue Dress", the great Denzel Washington movie based on a series of books by Walter Mosley.  As Mouse, he was just plain bipolar--the cool, easy-going partner in one scene, the volatile, trigger-happy partner in the next.  But, he was electric, and you just knew that any minute, he was going to blow up in bigger parts.  And, he has, but somehow he has never been given a chance to be The Man, the lead actor in a movie of some significance, but "Hotel Rwanda" is it and Cheadle delivers the goods in every way.  I don't think he has the looks or the charisma for any kind of Denzel-like career boost, but it would be nice to see Cheadle get more lead parts because he can carry a movie with quiet energy and nuanced character acting without a problem.

All of the acting in "Hotel Rwanda" is solid; support from Nick Nolte as a U.N. soldier is great, and bit cameos by Jean Reno and Joaquin Phoenix are solid as well.  The pace is slow at times, especially early on, as I fought to stay awake at times for brief stretches where the drama is really bled dry or when Paul or assorted bit characters wax somewhat poetic about the state of the world.  It's necessary in a film like this, and I was glad that the film wasn't too preachy; we get an excellent assessment of Rwanda and its political state through the main plotline, not through some of the side conversations that can make political dramas sorely drawn out.  We are also thankfully not given much in the way of voice-over from Paul or any of the other major players.

I'm not sure how "Hotel Rwanda" got passed over by "Sideways" or "Ray" for the Best Picture Oscar, two good movies that don't resonate like "Hotel Rwanda" does.  But, the acting in this film is so good that you need to see this film at your soonest opportunity.  Not perfect, but still a powerful addition to the year's library.

Rating:  $9.50 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09