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Featured Blu-ray Review: Hotel Rwanda

May 19th, 2011

Hotel Rwanda - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon

Hotel Rwanda opened in limited release in 2004 and thanks to incredible reviews and talk of possible Oscar glory, it was able to earn $23.5 million, despite never playing in 1000 theaters or cracking the top ten. It also earned 3 Oscar nominations, but came home empty-handed. The film came out on Blu-ray for the first time earlier this year, but only as a Best Buy exclusive, Now out in general release. For those that waited, is the movie worth picking up in High Definition?

The Movie

The film takes place in Rwanda 1994 and starts with the host of a radio program talking about the Tutsi and how they are invaders, and traitors, and cockroaches and how the patriotic Hutu will crush this infestation.

We then meet Paul Rusesabagina, the manager of the Sabena Hôtel des Mille Collines, who is Hutu. He's well connected and uses bribes to ensure that the hotel is well stocked, even in these politically troubled times. One of the people he deals with is Georges Rutaganda, a Hutu extremist and leader of the Interahamwe, a Hutu militia. Paul maintains a polite rapport with George in order to maintain his supplies; however, since Paul's wife, Tatiana, is Tutsi, there is a lot of tension in that relationship.

There is a chance the Hutu-led government will be able to negotiate a peace treaty with Tutsi rebels, with the help of the U.N., whose forces in the area are led by a Canadian general, Colonel Oliver. Unfortunately, this plan seems destined to fail, as the Interahamwe are unlikely to accept any peace deal, while the U.N. isn't authorized to intervene, even to prevent a genocide. And chances of peace are reduced to zero when the president of Rwanda is assassinated on his way to sign the peace treaty and the Hutu extremists blame the Tutsi rebels. When genocide comes, he first uses the connections he's built up to save his family, but he is pressured to try to do more. Soon the hotel is turned into a make-shift sanctuary for Tutsi, but how long can one man protect so many people?

There are few things that get my blood boiling more than bullies. And I think bigots are the worse kind of bullies out there. This is a movie that is very good, and infuriating to the point where I can't watch it in one sitting. It is so emotionally draining, but this just emphasizes how amazing the story and the acting is. Quite frankly, I think both Don Cheadle and Sophie Okonedo should have won in their respective Oscar categories. (While the script is fantastic, the complexity of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind made is the best choice for Best Original Screenplay.) For that matter, Nick Nolte is amazing in a supporting role. Nick Nolte plays the general who is frustrated with the chain of command and although he knows something must be done to protect these people, he can't convince anyone to authorize action. Joaquin Phoenix plays a reporter there to cover the peace treaty announcement. It's a very short role and one that is basically there to receive exposition. They needed to explain to the audience the history of the Belgian influence in Rwanda, the differences between Hutu and Tutsi, and the source of the hatred between the groups. The filmmakers were able to impart this information in a very organic way through the reporter, as it is something that is rather confusing to an outsider.

I've heard some complaints that the film is too emotionally manipulative, but I disagree there. I've heard some complaints that the film doesn't spend enough time on the genocide itself and instead focuses on the actions of one man. I do believe you could make such a movie and it could also be very compelling, but sometimes looking at a huge event from the perspective of one person makes it easier to digest and spreads the story farther.

Regardless of those issues, the film is an overwhelming success and should be seen by more people.

The Extras

Extras include a feature-length audio commentary track with the writer / director Terry George and the real life Paul Rusesabagina. (Wyclef Jean pops in to provide some insight on the music for the film.) It's more about the real life events than the filmmaking process, but I don't think that will be a problem for most. There is a select scene commentary with Don Cheadle, but as a solo track, it is not very energetic. Next up is a 28-minute long making of featurette that starts with Terry George's introduction to the real life events, his research, casting, etc. Finally, there's a 14-minute featurette with the real life Paul and Tatiana Rusesabagina returning to Rwanda to visit some of the key locations.

The technical presentation is excellent with a high level of detail, excellent colors, deep blacks, strong contrasts. It was a relatively low budget film and it is not a visually stunning movie, so it's not reference level material, but there are no complaints either. It looks as good as one could expect a movie that is devoid of special effects to look. The audio is uncomplicated, for the most part. There are some directional effects in some of the gun fights, as well as good use of the surround sound speakers for the score. Plus, the dialogue is crisp and clear.

The Verdict

Hotel Rwanda is a film that should be seen by more and the Blu-ray is worth owning. Amazon.com has the list price at $39.99, but you can buy it new for $13, which is a great deal.


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