Hotel Rwanda

While I loved Jamie Foxx's performance in Ray, it's a shame it was released this year, as he has kinda eliminated all the other contenders for Best Actor. Don Cheadle, who has been known more as a supporting player throughout his career, has shined in Ocean's 11, Traffic and Boogie Nights. Cheadle gives just as good a performance in Hotel Rwanda, but he has zero chance at the Oscar, as everyone knows Foxx has it in the bag. I make this prediction right now: if Foxx does not win the Oscar, there is going to be a riot.

Hotel Rwanda is the true-life story of Paul Rusesabagina, played by Cheadle, the house manager of a four-star hotel in 1994 Rwanda. When civil war breaks out in the country, mass slaughter and genocide, dogs and cats living together, Paul is left in charge of the hotel, and by result, the hundreds of refugees flocking to it for safety. As he is torn between protecting his job, his family, his staff and his guests, Paul must tread the very thin line between opposing factions, and try to survive the onslaught of any number of enemies. It is a harrowing account of trying to maintain the norm in times of war, and it is one of the most real movies I've seen in a long time. I never once broke away and thought about the lighting or locations like I tend to do sometimes. I was fully engrossed in the story and characters, not the technique, which is exactly the way it should be. Like Chuck told me in school, and like Futurama reiterated, when you do things right, they won't be sure you've done anything at all. Words to live by.

Cheadle and co-star Sophie Okenedo both received acting noms for this film, and it also features Joaquin Phoenix and Nick Nolte. Otherwise, the cast is basically unknowns, at least in the US, but the entire ensemble performed well. I can thank writer-director Terry George for that, impressive in his first big picture. George is a screenwriter first, having scripted the Daniel Day-Lewis dramas In the Name of the Father and The Boxer, as well as the so-so Hart's War, and his talent for writing shines in Hotel Rwanda. It could have been a melodrama, with much of the weeping and the crying and screaming and whatnot, but George keeps things subtle and subdued, to even greater emotional impact. When Paul's stiff upper lip finally breaks, it is a heartbreaking experience, instead of just scenery chewing. And while the film does get into a bit of tearjerkery, if that's a real word, it doesn't fall into the trap of something like Ladder 49, by quite obviously aiming straight at the ol' waterworks. (Ladder 49, by the way, gets no pass for being about firefighters in a post 9/11 world. It's sentimental crap, albeit crap about heroes.)

Hotel Rwanda was one of the last of my Oscar films to watch this year, and I can see why it has received such recognition. In any other year, Don Cheadle would probably be my favorite for the statue, but we can't change that now. Oh well. And while true-life films sometimes come across as fake, just by design, Hotel Rwanda is very, very real; real enough to make me appreciate my surroundings that much more. (I don't have to worry about being attacked by a machete-wielding maniac, at least until Dave and I go to Crystal Lake. Jason lives there.) The film is a hard-hitting look at important social issues, such as racism, but it's also entertaining enough to be popular. Hotel Rwanda gets an A.


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