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MGM Studios DVD presents
Hotel Rwanda (2004)

Paul Rusesabagina: How can they not intervene when they witness such atrocities?
Jack Daglish: I think if people see this footage they'll say 'Oh, my God, that's horrible' and then go on eating their dinners.

- Don Cheadle, Joaquin Phoenix

Review By: Matt Peterson  
Published: April 11, 2005

Stars: Don Cheadle, Sophie Okonedo, Nick Nolte
Other Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Desomond Dube, David O'Hara, Cara Seymour, Fana Mokoena
Director: Terry George

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and brief strong language
Run Time: 02h:01m:42s
Release Date: April 12, 2005
UPC: 027616925121
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ AA-A- B+

DVD Review

Evil is alive and well. It's the dark side of free will, a consequence of our nature that can be overcome by individuals with heart, courage, and moral character. Cruel dictators and hateful regimes still thrive in this world, and organizations such as the UN are designed to curtail such forces. Unfortunately, their impotence frequently rules the day, allowing atrocities to persist. Likewise, the rest of the world tends to sit by the sidelines, watching through the sterilized gauze of network news from the comfort of countless living rooms.

Hotel Rwanda brings these bitter issues to light, depicting events surrounding the Rwandan genocide of 1994, during which a million innocents were slaughtered out of hatred. Some years prior, Belgian colonialists divided the population into two distinct groups: the Hutus and the Tutsis. The distinction was based on appearance; Tutsis, allies of the Europeans, were taller, lighter skinned, and thinner nosed. When the Belgians left the dusty streets of Kigali, they left the Hutus in power, giving them the means and the resources to exact revenge against the Tutsi "cockroaches" for years of oppression. Hatred reached a head in the mid '90s, when the Hutu Interhamwe Militia, using the power of the radio, organized and executed a genocide of staggering proportions.

The story focuses on the heroic manager of the Hotel Des Mille Collines, Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle), and his desperate efforts that saved the lives of his wife, their children, and some 1,200 Rwandan refugees. A man fully devoted to his work and family, Paul's wit, wisdom, and intelligence become far more formidable weapons than any gun or machete. The political and sociological dimensions here are endless: Paul skillfully allies himself with the right people, whether it is the UN representative, members of the media, or even the General who is clandestinely behind the slaughter. This is not a series of deceptions, but the result of his managerial duties; it is his occupation to be hospitable and to make friends. Paul's savvy, courage, and heart contribute to a small measure of victory amidst a field of blood.

Hotel Rwanda's style is rather conventional, flat, and tends to shy away from showing the full extent of the slaughter. Indeed, there are plenty harrowing images and moments, but this is clearly a PG-13 effort. Such sterilization gives me pause. Does this choice weaken the message? Though I think graphic portrayals are sometimes necessary to reveal truth to the audience, I can understand why director Terry George backed away. In a time of excessively violent bloodfests in films like Sin City, perhaps violence has lost its sting. The lack of such images certainly makes the film more accessible; hopefully more people will see it.

Though the story could have delved into more detail, George's drama remains one of the most important films of 2004. It is a powerhouse of emotion, capturing the scope of the events through the plight of one man and his family. The script allows the audience to absorb the complexity of the situation with ease; the international dimensions of the conflict are here in all their frustrating detail. Don Cheadle's harrowing performance is his best work yet; he skillfully captures the role's range, from desperate father to well-mannered manager. Supporting roles from Sophie Okonedo, Joaquin Phoenix, and a thoroughly pickled Nick Nolte as a frustrated, weak UN officer are strong. (The only major "fictional" character, Nolte's Colonel Oliver is a blend of several UN representatives, most notably Lt. Gen. Roméo Dallaire. See Shake Hands with the Devil for more on him.)

Paul is often compared to Oskar Schindler, and rightfully so. They were both men who used their personal resources and influence for the good of others. For Paul, it was an effort designed not only to save lives, but to satisfy the pangs of his conscience. To him, not helping was inconceivable. Comparing the Rwandan genocide to the Holocaust begs the discussion of another point: genocide continues, even today. We can say "never again" as many times as we wish, but it is a pointless catchphrase when innocents continue to be slaughtered. The countless dead in the Sudan can attest to this.

Why did the world ignore Rwanda? Perhaps the wounds of Somalia were too fresh. Perhaps its lack of economic value was a consideration. Clearly, change is needed. Yes, the sociopolitical issues at hand boggle the mind with their complexity and lasting effects, but when such considerations tie our hands and allow murder to persist, something is wrong.

We should only have to say "never again" once.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: MGM's anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer is very good. Colors and contrast are spot on, and the image is full of detail. Still, some occasional print defects and edge enhancement are noticeable.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Frenchyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The clear Dolby 5.1 audio is somewhat tame and front-heavy at times, but the surrounds kick in during more intense moments. The mix serves the material well.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish
1 Original Trailer(s)
7 Other Trailer(s) featuring Undertow, "MGM Means Great Movies" promo, Osama, Hart's War. Manic, Bowling for Columbine, The Yes Men
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Terry George and Paul Rusesabagina (with select commentary by Wyclef Jean)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Prepaid Amnesty International donation envelope
  2. Amnesty International message by Don Cheadle
  3. Selected scenes commentary by Don Cheadle
Extras Review: The first thing you'll notice upon opening the keepcase is a prepaid donation envelope for Amnesty International. This, along with a message from Don Cheadle on the atrocities in the Sudan before the main menu will hopefully prompt viewers to help.

The best feature on the disc is a feature-length audio commentary with director Terry George and Paul Rusesabagina (with select commentary by Wyclef Jean). This is an invaluable track. The director explains his debatable stylistic choices, but mostly acts as an interviewer here; Paul shares his firsthand experience in detail. There is also a reel of selected scenes with commentary by Don Cheadle (21m:46s total).

A Message for Peace: Making Hotel Rwanda (27m:54s) is a behind-the-scenes documentary that goes beyond the usual fluff piece, featuring comments from Terry George, Don Cheadle, screenwriter Keir Pearson (who originally envisioned a Traffic-esque approach to the material), Paul Rusesabagina, and some revealing archival photos from 1994. Return to Rwanda (14m:30s), a rather rough DV piece, follows Paul Rusesabagina and his wife Tatiana back to the scene of the slaughter. Several locations are visited, including a massacre sight and the real Mille Collines Hotel.

Finally, the theatrical trailer and select trailers for other MGM titles are included.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

The story of Paul Rusesabagina is a powerful wakeup call to the world. Don Cheadle's superb performance demands our attention, as do the film's important messages. If policies prevent the end of genocide, changes must be made. The lives of the innocent demand it.

 


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