Hotel Rwanda (USA, 2004, Terry George)
Wherein Ben and I take a look back at one of the more subtle cinematic attempts to understand an African tragedy, while breaking out some really bad puns.
My professional travels of late have brought me in contact with a number of films and this is one of them. Considering that I am always harping on about the need for historical consciousness and that I have been known to slag off the mainstream industry for having none, this film deserves to be praised. I ran a search in order to ascertain the degree of factual veracity in HR and discovered that it was solid in the essentials. At the same time, I have to say that the production is not sensationalistic with respect to depicting the violence inflicted, the terror experienced or the moral anguish endured by the foreigners on the scene. Yes, the music is there telling you how to feel, but not in bad taste.
Yes, the storyboard editing is pat construction designed to ensure comprehension by school children, well, right on. No, there is no background and analysis and it does deal in traditionally liberal terms, which is to say, personal heroics; but a true story is a true story and the guy is the Schindler to which he has been compared. Most of all, the screenplay is occasionally spot on. When Nick Nolte as some Romeo Dallaire-composite-UN-commander informs the protagonist that contrary to his own expectations and promise, no interventionist force is coming, he tells him that to the rich superpowers this black man is dirt, dung, not even a nigger... an African. So it was well after the fact, even after the simulacrum was received with acclaim. Don Cheadle lost to Jamie Foxx. I guess we should be glad that finally a man playing a "nigger" can win the Oscar. How long will it be and what will it take before an "African" character can win? As if this even matters.
I like the film as well. There is an understatement to the horrors depicted that is quite effective, I think. Given the tragic proportions of events, the filmmakers had a choice to lay on the horrors or treat it with a bit more reserve, and I think chosing the latter was wise. Instead of it being another story about those savage Africans, it became a more subtle tale about a small community of Africans, and in particular, about a heroic African. I've always liked Don Cheadle, but I had no idea he had this sort of depth. It's a really strong performance, as he is a very human champion, not your standard cocky and assertive Hollywood hero. The passage I remember most vividly occurs when he is boarding his family on the truck to supposedly grant them exodus from this hell, only to discover that he has probably sent them to their executions. Jesus, I was really fucking scared in that scene. Anyways, yeah, good movie.
I liked Jamie Foxx in Collateral. That's the film he shoulda won the Oscar for, not Ray. Though he does a good impression of Ray Charles in Ray, it's really a pretty standard piece of Hollywood acting in a pretty standard Hollywood treatment.
It would be easy to be cynical, to say that that the film steers away from graphic stuff in order to fly under the rating radar and capture the big audience. But I believe you are right that they wanted to respect history and not exploit it as so much slasher movie fodder. So I thought the device of having the journalist present his boss with some footage of the "action," shot from a distance, shown to us in a small TV monitor, was subtle and effective.
I've not seen Collateral but Ray was a puff piece and with all due respect, isn't imitating Ray Charles part of the standard audition for Saturday Night Live hopefuls? I've liked Don Cheadle ever since Boogie Nights. He must have crawled off with a bottle after he lost the prize for HR. Those roles don't come around every day for anyone. You know, I'm not saying this was akin to what it would have been if, say, Ben Kingsley didn't get it for Ghandi. But still... Hey, have you seen Forrest Whitaker as Idi Amin? I haven't. Now there's a guy who has managed to snag at least two epic parts. Guy was Bird. Shee-it.
I have seen Forest as Idi, and the film's all right, but Forest is great. So's the Scottish kid who plays opposite him (James McAvoy).
That's Idi for you to say.
Amin to that.