DVD Review HTF Review: Hotel Rwanda

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Jason Perez, Apr 11, 2005.

  1. Jason Perez

    Jason Perez Second Unit

    Jul 6, 2003
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    Hotel Rwanda

    Studio: MGM
    Year: 2004
    Rated: PG-13
    Running Time: 122 minutes
    Aspect Ratio: 16x9 Enhanced Widescreen (2.35:1)
    Subtitles: English, French, and Spanish
    Audio: English – Dolby Digital 5.1; French – Stereo Surround

    Release Date:
    April 12th, 2005

    Hotel Rwanda is a very disturbing film, and yet a very hopeful one as well, as it shows how amidst horrific brutality, a lone human being can demonstrate how an individual’s willingness to make a stand can make a huge difference in the lives of many of his fellows. It is also an extremely powerful film, capable of inducing nightmares in those who watch it, as the horrific events depicted therein actually took place in the African country of Rwanda during the year 1994!

    Basically, the film is an account, on a smaller and more personal scale, of the tragic (and tragically underreported here in the States) genocide that claimed approximately 1 million lives in a mere three months. What I mean by the film taking a “small scale” approach is that the movie shows us these incomprehensible events through the eyes of a heroic hotel manager named Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle). During this time, as his country plunged into chaos, Paul initially set out to save his family from the mass murder taking place, but ended up risking both his own life and the lives of his family in an attempt to save 1,268 refugees from the machetes of Interhamwe extremists.

    To take a step backwards for a moment, we see that in the conflict’s initial stages, Paul had little cause for concern. The reason is that through his job at the posh Milles Collines resort hotel in Rwanda’s capitol city of Kigali, he had ties to many of the wealthiest and most influential citizens in the country, which kept him isolated from the increasing hostilities. Shortly thereafter, however, the Rwandan president (Habyarimana) was killed, and extremists from the Hutu tribe (the Interhamwe) came into power.

    It is at this point that things spiraled out of control, as once the Hutu extremists were in a position of authority, they became hell bent on exterminating the Tutsis, another Rwandan tribe, and moderate Hutus. Since Paul’s wife was a Tutsi, he became greatly concerned for both her safety and the safety of his children. Of course, his concerns were more than justified, as the United Nations peacekeeping forces were unable to restore order, and the world’s “developed” nations also refused to intervene in the conflict, leaving no barrier between the Interhamwe and their campaign to wantonly slaughter Tutsis.

    Seeing no aid in sight, Paul,who is a Hutu, mustered the fortitude to use his hotel to shelter the aforementioned Tutsis, and then used bribes, tricks, and every other method known to him to keep the multitudes of people targeted for extermination safe. At first, he employed simple methods, like bribing soldiers with valuable commodities or liquor to keep these “guests” safe, but when the hotel’s store of goods ran low, his sense of desperation increased and he was forced to employ more extreme measures to save both the refugees and his family. I will say no more, for and this movie is best experienced and not described…

    One of the most impressive things about Hotel Rwanda, which was shot on location in Africa, is how it creates an incredible sensation of realism, so that a viewer can almost “feel” the rampant brutality experienced by the Tutsis as Rwandan civilization collapsed. It must be noted, however, that director Terry George is able to give us a real sense of the human tragedy that is unfolding without an over-reliance on graphic violence, which is something he really should be commended for. Instead, George uses the perspectives of the characters and focus on the Rusesabagina family to develop the emotions of sadness and disbelief at the atrocities committed, and for how the rest of the world looked on while Tutsis were being systematically stamped out, within the viewer.

    In terms of performances, Don Cheadle was simply terrific as Paul Rusesabagina, and well deserving of one of the three Academy Award® nominations this film received (he was nominated for Best Actor)! Perhaps the biggest compliment I can pay him is that his actions and speech convinced me that he was the resourceful “everyman” who was put in a position to do the right thing and had the courage to do it, becoming a hero in every sense of the word in the process. In what is undoubtedly the performance of his career (so far), Cheadle exhibits every ounce of the charm, negotiating skill, and sound judgment that the real Paul Rusesabagina must have as he used his wits to keep the bloodthirsty militia members at bay.

    The work of the supporting players is also very strong across the board, with the most notable performances coming from Jean Reno, who plays the owner of the Milles Collines; Nick Nolte, who plays the Commander of the U.N. contingent; Joaquin Phoenix, who has a relatively small part as an American photographer; and Sophie Okonedo, who turns in an amazingly deep performance as Paul’s wife Tatiana.

    In consideration of all of these things, I can state with confidence that Hotel Rwanda is a film that not only deserves to be seen, but that also offers a superb encapsulation of a tragedy so mind-boggling that it cannot possibly be contained within the confines of a motion picture. Better still, it is a movie that affirms human beings can be heroes and accomplish seemingly impossible things – like standing tall against brutal aggressors, even though personal risk might be great – when they utilize their creativity and resourcefulness. The film may not be as great a cinematic accomplishment as Spielberg’s Schnidler’s List, but if you missed Hotel Rwanda in the theater, I urge you to give it a look!!!

    Hotel Rwanda is presented in MGM’s standard issue “16x9 enhanced” transfer, in its original widescreen aspect ratio (2.35:1), and it looks very good on home video. To get started, colors are well drawn throughout, as evidenced by the lovely recreation of the characters’ vibrant attire, and the smooth, accurate rendering of skin tones. Similarly, whites remain crisp, clean, and noise-free throughout the feature, and never become too hot to handle.

    Another positive aspect of the transfer is that black levels in Hotel Rwanda are also deep and inky, so the amount of detail present in shadows remained consistent, and the print exhibits only trace amounts of grain or specks. Finally, although a couple of scenes in Hotel Rwanda exhibited a slight “softness”, the image’s detail is usually quite good.

    Unfortunately, the application of edge enhancement is evident in the ringing around the borders of light/dark transitions at several points during the film. This knocks what would have been an excellent transfer down a notch, but on the whole, the film’s visuals are handled well, and I was left satisfied with Hotel Rwanda’s image quality.

    For English speakers, Hotel Rwanda has a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack onboard, and while it is not a reference quality soundtrack, it more than does the source material proud. Although there are some sequences where things get hectic, a lot of the audio information comes in the form of dialogue, and the soundtrack is largely confined to the front of the soundstage as a result. With this in mind, I was happy to find that sounds emitted from the front and center channels were clean and error-free, and that it was never difficult to understand what is being said (provided you have no trouble with the speakers’ accents).

    When things get busier, the surround channels are put to work, but the mix is not very aggressive in this respect, and I think that these channels could have been utilized more effectively, in terms of putting listeners in the middle of the attacks on the Tutsis, or to convey environmental effects. The subwoofer is employed in a similar fashion, so even though there is no real room-rattling bass, gunshots, vehicle engines, and other sound effects are appropriately reinforced via the LFE channel.

    All in all, this transfer represents a pretty good in-home recreation of Hotel Rwanda’s soundtrack…but I thought the mix would have benefited from a slightly more aggressive approach during certain sequences.


    Audio Commentary #1
    The feature-length commentary is by Terry George and Paul Rusesabagina, who are joined at certain points by musician Wyclef Jean. If you appreciated the film, you will want to listen to this commentary, as George provides a wealth of information on both the process of making this film and the historical events that inspired it.

    Better still, George gets Paul Rusesabagina, the heroic figure that actually experienced these events firsthand, to open up and give his unique perspective on what we see onscreen. Paul’s comments are both fascinating and depressing at the same time, as he talks about things like the efforts of the radio station to dehumanize people and how savage some of the crimes committed against the Tutsis were.

    You will be disappointed if you are expecting a major contribution from Wyclef Jean (a musician and member of “The Fugees”), as he only makes comments over the end credits. However, when Wyclef does finally turn up at 116 minutes in, he does thoughtfully discuss his inspiration for the quickly written (and Golden Globe-nominated) song “Million Voices”, which is his tribute to those killed in Rwanda.

    Audio Commentary #2
    This second audio commentary, for certain scenes in the film (totaling approximately 20 minutes), is provided by actor Don Cheadle, who talks about the methods he employed to give legitimacy to the scenes in question, and then offers his thoughts on the tragic nature of the genocide that occurred in Rwanda.

    Return To Rwanda
    “Return to Rwanda” is a 15-minute documentary that follows writer/director/producer Terry George and Paul Rusesabagina trip back to Kigali, the capital of Rwanda where the main conflict occurred. It is a thoughtful piece, and offers an interesting retrospective on the horrific situation that Paul lived through, but it is dark in tone, and contains some sickening descriptions of horrific acts of murder and grisly footage of corpses – squeamish folks should beware!

    Message For Peace: Making Hotel Rwanda
    This piece features interviews with Don Cheadle, Terry George, writer Keir Pearson, and Paul Rusesabagina, who discuss the true story and how it was adapted for the big screen. The featurette begins with Pearson, who clues us in on how the genesis of the screenplay.
    Subsequently, the man in charge, director Terry George, follows the thought through to conclusion by revealing the changes made to the screenplay’s main thematic elements, including how the level of violence in the film was intentionally toned down. The featurette then continues with the Paul Rusesabagina, who talks about the events depicted in the film from his unique point of view.

    The original theatrical trailer for Hotel Rwanda is included.

    Promotional Materials
    The disc kicks off with an anti-piracy ad and the trailer for: Undertow. These are followed by a short plea from actor Don Cheadle, who asks for support in aiding the people of Sudan. It should be noted that though it is brief, this particular item cannot be bypassed.


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    Hotel Rwanda is an amazingly deep and powerful motion picture that serves to remind us of the senseless violence and killing that sometimes results from the persecution of ethnic / religious groups by those who cannot stand the fact that there are people different from them. Sadly, what happened in Rwanda isn't an isolated example, as history is rife with the types of conflicts, some of which are even occurring now, in the 21st century!

    Although the film contains some scenes of gut wrenching brutality, I think director Terry George deserves a lot of credit for establishing the scope of this horrendous period of Rwanda’a history without relying too much on shock value. Instead, George pulls at our heartstrings and pushes enough of the right emotional buttons that we become engrossed in Paul Rusesabagina’s heroic fight to save the lives of over 1,200 people from the genocidal conflict occurring in his homeland and share his undying hope that tomorrow will bring better fortune.

    Thankfully, this powerful film gets a pretty good treatment on DVD, particularly in the “extras” department, with the inclusion of two commentaries and two featurettes that give greater insight into a horrific period in human history. The audio and visual quality is also solid. As such, although Hotel Rwanda is a tough film to watch, it is an easy recommendation!

    Stay tuned…
  2. Stephen Orr

    Stephen Orr Screenwriter

    Mar 14, 1999
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  3. Marc Colella

    Marc Colella Cinematographer

    Jun 19, 1999
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    Nice review.

    One of the better films of 2004.

    The film avoids Hollywood's forced emotional moments with extreme melodrama and queued violins.

    Cheadle gives a great performance as well.
  4. Allan^L

    Allan^L Stunt Coordinator

    Mar 5, 2004
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    Amazing movie. Don Cheadle was robbed of an Oscar.
  5. Nkosi

    Nkosi Stunt Coordinator

    Oct 5, 2003
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    Thanks for the review. Very good movie. Important movie. Outstanding performances.
  6. Manus

    Manus Second Unit

    Oct 6, 2002
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