Who said Africans don’t have their own Schindler’s List?
The movie is about Paul Ruseabagina (Don Cheadle), a man who works at his hotel during the violent war between Hutu and Tutsi in Rwanda. When the war goes out of control and innocent people are starting to get killed one by one, Paul risks everything to save his family and the many refugees on his hotel.
If I was a resident of Africa, I would be pretty pissed with Hollywood because it seems as if every time they always have a movie that portrays that area, it’s filled with chaos, genocide, murder, and dead-bodies left in the street. Seriously, does Africa have anything else to offer than a bunch of mobile slaughterhouses? I don’t think Hollywood has caught-on to that idea yet that maybe Africa isn’t as shitty as it once was, but damn, does it make some good-drama. I’m thinking from a Hollywood producer view-point, not my own.
With a movie about genocide and featuring plenty of innocents getting hacked-off by machetes on a daily basis, you would think that this flick would be all sorts of gruesome but surprisingly, director Terry George keeps things relatively civil and very PG-13. Yeah, I do think that the PG-13 rating sort of got over-stepped a couple of times but you know what? I’m not part of the MPAA and I don’t care either way, because George does a nice-job on not only focusing on the horrors of this 1994 massacre in a disturbing, but still respectable way, but also focusing on what made those people who lived through it all want to continue life some more.
I’m not one for these sappy, melodramatic, inspirational true-tales of a guy who fought against-the-odds and one because no matter how much of a twist you may put on it, it’s still the same old song and dance. You can have a good-guy seem like he’s never going to make it out alive, stack all of the odds against him, and in the opponent’s favor, but no matter what, the good-guy always wins, good overcomes evil, and the human-spirit always prevails. That’s why I was really surprised by how emotionally-connected I felt to this story, despite me knowing pretty much how it was going to end, where, when, and how.
George plays things very subtle on his direction, and instead, allows the story to tell itself in a way that makes you realize that this is as inspirational it they come, in terms of true-life stories. This man, Paul, literally had no chance of living whatsoever and even though he pretty much knew that from day uno, once things started to get a little shaky in home hood, but he never stopped giving-up hope, he never stopped to protect those around him, and surprisingly, he actually accepted the fact that he would most likely die no matter what the outcome of all of this strife and internal conflict would be. That’s very respectable and brave of a man to have, and you will be very, very inspired by this man after you see all that he had to do, all of the strings that he pulled, and all of the promises he had to make, just to ensure the safety of himself, his family, and everybody else around him. Knowing me, I would have probably would have bitched-out and totally just gave-up all hope and have them cut me like ham out on my front-lawn, but watching a man like this, seeing everything that he would do to keep his people alive, and knowing that it was all a true-story with some liberties taken here and there, I felt very inspired and sure with myself. Then, I turned-off the movie and came back down to reality and realized: well, I’m still a pussy.
What makes this man so special, so memorable, and so brave, is mainly because of the tour de force performance from Don Cheadle, in his first, leading-role, if you can believe it. See, before 2004, Cheadle was not the household name that he is today and was only really known as a character actor that showed-up in random stuff, acted like the tough, sly black-guy, and that was basically it. He was good at it, don’t get me wrong, but there’s always something more to him and that’s what he shows-off here so perfectly as Paul Ruseabagina. There are so many scenes where you can just feel this man really starting to lose all hope and faith in humanity, but still, somehow is able to keep it together for his family, everybody around him, and mostly, himself. A couple of moments in this flick we just see him break-down into full and utter tears (that tie scene was amazing), and it has an effect on us because this is a guy we feel as if we can trust more than anybody else that he’s hiding in that hotel. I’ve got to give it to Cheadle, the guy handled the African-accent perfectly and even though some of his lines may have been a bit cheesy, he still works through it and has us believe in this man for all that he is. I loved Cheadle here and it’s a real shame that the guy hasn’t been given more opportunities like this to just act his off, because we all know he can. And if not, just watch this damn movie and you’ll come back a hella surprised.
But see, the problem with Cheadle being so powerful, being so memorable, and basically, being the only element to this movie that could have the waterworks moving for me, is that he’s probably the best thing this movie has going for it, in terms of acting. His wife, played by Sophie Okonedo is good and definitely shows that there is a lot more to her than just a damsel in distress that needs her hubby with her every step of the way, but everybody else seems painfully dull and just plain and simply obvious.
Nick Nolte is always an actor that I can count-on to give a solid performance but here, the guy’s character just blows, showed-up every once and awhile, delivered some piss-poor news, went-away, came back again, and it was the same thing over and over again. Nolte can handle these types of roles like nobody’s business, but his material is just too dull and boring for him to really shine above it all. Then of course, there’s another crazy-man by the name of Joaquin Phoenix in this who doesn’t have a huge-role, but it is honestly a role that could have been taken-out of the final-cut, and it wouldn’t have made a lick of a difference either way if he was in the movie or not. I should never have to say that about Phoenix and no matter how much of you out-there think (and pretty much know) that the guy’s crazy, you still can’t deny he’s a great actor that takes great-care of every role he’s given.
However, I haven’t even gotten to the actual, African-troops that are as evil, despicable, and distasteful as you can get. In every single one of these movies, the generals are always the same: big, bad, mean, corrupt, and always smoking a cigar to show how relaxed and rich they are. It’s a cliche that shows-up in all of these movies and it’s one that shows-up here way too many times, and is just obvious that it’s not working in this flick, especially when Cheadle’s playing across-of them. Each general acts as if they can’t wait to get their hands on their machete so they can just cut somebody up to little, bitty pieces and even if they were all like that, it still doesn’t mean I want to see it, over and over again. Cheadle as Paul is great, but everybody else, well, they just feel like cardboard cut-outs of characters that were supposed to be there and have real thoughts, real hearts, and real feelings but in the end, I got nothing from any of them.
Consensus: You’ll be quick to dismiss it as “obvious, conventional, and cliche”, and in a way, you may be correct, but Hotel Rwanda doesn’t let that get in the way of a true-tale of the hope, courage, and honesty of one man named Paul Ruseabagina, played oh so perfectly by Don Cheadle, in his best role ever. Yes, I did say, EVER.
Great review of a harrowing film.
Thanks! It is a bit harrowing, but also very inspirational as well.
I know this film is well-respected, but I have to admit, after 30 minutes I fell asleep. When I woke the credits were rolling. I never tried to watch it again.
Damn! I’m sorry to hear, Dusty. Maybe next time, or maybe not. Your call.
Good review! This is on my watchlist … I’d see it for Cheadle’s performance alone.
Thanks! There’s a lot of other goodies to be seen here, but Cheadle’s performance is definitely the main one to watch.
I agree about Cheadle, he is consistently good… but here he was great! He brillantly carried the weight of the movie on his shoulders.