Hotel Rwanda(MGM Home Entertainment, 4.12.2005)
The screen is black. Then, a softening into blue, like stormclouds parting at daybreak. Then a large, lone silhouette, stretching from the top of the screen to the bottom, and a faint, clear, pure light above the head, like a halo, like a blessed validation of righteousness bestowed not by God but by the great collective consciousness that is liberal guilt. And finally, there is Don Cheadle, his face strong but compassionate, a vision of goodness and conviction, a man who has stared into the face of evil and refused to flinch, a good man, yes, but more than a good man, a hero. And that's just the main menu.
Paul Rusesabagina is, of course, a hero. While the Western world did nothing to curb the widespread genocide that ravaged Rwanda in 1994, Rusesabagina took in over 1000 endangered Tutsis at the five-star hotel he managed, wheeling and dealing to guard them from extremist Hutus, in order to provide food and shelter and safe passage to refugee camps.
It's not hard to make a case of sainthood for such a man and Hotel Rwanda takes the easy way out, attempting just that and little more. Cheadle is so strong as Rusesabagina that you wonder what he could have done with a script that drew the man in more than one dimension.
This is one of those "historically important" movies where you sit there hoping that the immensity of the situation isn't reduced to the hero, momentarily alone, collapsing to the ground and crying. White characters talk openly about how ashamed they (read: you, dear viewer) are (read: should be, dear viewer).
And we should be ashamed. But Hotel Rwanda lacks the ferocious, impassioned outrage of, say, Bloody Sunday and the courage to bring its moment back to ugly life and conjure a primitive sense of danger. It coasts along, head held high, on the value of its message.
Oddly enough, the skim extras provide a more compelling document of the Rwandan genocide than the Oscar-nominated movie they supplement. In addition to his candid recollections on the commentary track with director Terry George, Rusesabagina features prominently in both "Making Hotel Rwanda," a fairly standard promo doc, and "Return to Rwanda."
The latter is a documentary short, in which Rusesabagina, his wife, and George visit the Hotel Miles Colines and tour a chilling memorial site: an old technical school where some 40,000 Tutsis were surrounded, slaughtered, and dumped into mass graves. Skeletons, all chalk-white from the lye used to cover the bodies, now lie together on display like mummies in the rooms where the murders occurred, bones broken, limbs and heads bashed or missing.
This exhibit, along with Rusesabagina's Shoah-like testimonials, are historically invaluable and cinematically instructive. No film about genocide should come with the label "might not be suitable for children under 13." -- Joey Tayler