Hotel Rwanda (Blu-ray)
Directed by Terry George
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 122 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 2.0 Spanish, 5.1 French
Subtitles: SDH Spanish, French
MSRP: $ 19.99
Release Date: April 14, 2011
Review Date: May 15, 2011
Stories about dedicated men and women facing impossible odds to do something decent and humane are often popular fodder for movies. Terry George’s Hotel Rwanda tells the true story of a Rwandan hero who risks his life and the lives of his wife and children attempting to save more than a thousand people (mostly strangers). As in such ultimately noble sagas as Schindler’s List and The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, the journey is everything as we watch the protagonist fighting seemingly insurmountable obstacles to achieve his goals. George’s film doesn’t register with quite the depth of feeling consistently that other pictures of this genre manage, but much of it is engrossing drama and for those with short memories, the horrific acts of genocide that occur during the film’s one hundred day siege shouldn’t be forgotten as a very important part of the story being told.
In 1994, the Hutu rebels of Rwanda stage a takeover of the country attempting to oust the reigning Tutsis from power. As they slaughter thousands upon thousands of the their countrymen, hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle) begins using the Hotel Des Mille Collines as a safe haven for whites trapped in the country and Rwandan refugees attempting but unable to flee. When it becomes obvious that the United Nations is not going to help the natives and is interested only in getting the foreigners out of the country, Paul must use every trick in his arsenal (including plying the Hutu generals with money, liquor, jewelry) to buy time while people inside the hotel use every contact they can to shame the outside world into helping with the rescue.
Director Terry George (who co-wrote the film with Keir Pearson) stumbles a bit in not being able to keep the dangers of the outside world consistently oppressive to the people inside the hotel. We see them living in relative comfort for most of the film (they can shower, have decent meals, sleep in hotel beds), and only the rare excursions beyond its walls show us the carnage and chaos that is taking place outside. (The film’s most effective scene has Paul stumbling out of his hotel’s van on a bumpy road in a dense fog only to find that the road is strewn with bodies which accounted for his bumpy ride. Such scenes are few and far between) There are a couple of near-misses at death once the people finally leave the hotel (the film’s last thirty minutes contains the most constantly sustained tension), but that sense of overwhelming peril just seems to be missing as often as it’s present (compared to the ever-present threat of death in a film like Missing, Hotel Rwanda just doesn’t compare). To his credit, George doesn't focus on the results of the rampaging rebels and their flailing machetes. The PG-13 rating is wholly appropriate for the amount of gore the director chooses to show.
Don Cheadle makes a startling impression as Paul Rusesabagina who uses courtesy, diplomacy, intelligence, and tact instead of guns and machetes to get his way. (Seeing and hearing the real Paul Rusesabagina on the disc’s bonus features proves how well Cheadle mastered the cadences of his speech and the self-effacing nature of his demeanor.) Sophie Okonedo gets to be much more emotionally volatile as his wife Tatiana. Both actors were nominated quite deservedly for Oscars for their glowing performances and terrific on-screen chemistry. Nick Nolte pops in and out of the film as the Canadian commander of the U.N. forces, rendered impotent by directives which don’t allow them to use artillery against the rebels. Joaquin Phoenix has a quick cameo as a broadcast journalist covering the genocide until he’s abruptly evacuated from the country, and Jean Reno also has a couple of effective scenes as the hotel chain’s Belgian director who’s instrumental in getting some form of help to his employees.
The film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 is faithfully replicated in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Image quality is stunning throughout with no noticeable problems with sharpness (which is superb), color uniformity (which is as good as it gets), or skin tones (which are completely natural). Contrast has been dialed in perfectly to achieve such a pure, striking picture. Black levels are superbly inky, and there are no artifacts to spoil the pristine picture quality. The film has been divided into 24 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix makes vital use of the available surround channels placing plenty of ambient sounds split between the fronts and rears with sublime professionalism. The music by Andrea Guerra and Rupert Gregson-Williams resonates throughout the soundstage with frequent and impressive bass on aural display. Dialogue has been placed securely in the center channel with an occasional bit of directionalized dialogue also present.
The audio commentary is provided by director Terry George and the subject of the film Paul Rusesabagina (Wyclef Jean also comments on some of the music used in the movie). Rather than discuss many production details, George mainly spends the movie questioning Rusesabagina about his experiences and commenting on aspects of the film where events were combined, transposed, or invented. The men rarely have quiet moments, so fans of the film will enjoy what they have to say.
Don Cheadle offers a selected scene commentary with 21 ¾ minutes of clips. Cheadle actually is very reserved and spends more time watching the clips than commenting on them in this disappointing feature.
“A Message for Peace: Making Hotel Rwanda” is a 28-minute behind-the-scenes set of interviews with writer Keir Pearson, director Terry George, star Don Cheadle, and the film’s subject Paul Rusesabagina commenting on the story, their initial interest in the project, and their feelings about the finished film. It’s in 480i.
“Return to Rwanda” finds Paul Rusesabagina and his wife Tatiana returning to Kigali to visit three specific landmarks portrayed in the movie (which only shot a week on location and spent the rest of its production time filming in Johannesburg). This 480i featurette runs for 14 ½ minutes.
The film’s theatrical trailer funs 2 ¼ minutes in 1080p.
4/5 (not an average)
An involving if not quite superb reenactment of one of the late 20th century’s most horrific events given nobility by a very brave individual, Hotel Rwanda boasts a glorious Blu-ray transfer with extras ported over from its original DVD release. Recommended!