Brenda & I drove down to Princeton, NJ today to see the film Hotel Rwanda. We had to drive thirty miles to get to a theater that was showing this movie, as the eighty screens within the ten mile radius of our home were busy with the rest of the shit that is out there.
Regular readers of this website will probably not be surprised by the fact that I generally avoid movie theaters, as they tend to be filled with other people. But usually once a year or so Brenda & I are compelled to get out there and see something. This year it was Hotel Rwanda. I love Don Cheadle (and I'm pretty sure it was him that I held the door for at the deli around the corner from my office several months ago), and we’d heard good things about his performance in this film. The story, of course, was one that deserved real treatment.
This movie had my stomach in knots and me at the verge of tears several times. You want to cry for the 800,000 Tutsis hacked to death in 100 days, and what that says about the human race. Then you want to cry for the depth of our indifference—and what that says about the human race. You also want to cry when you realize that anyone can read lines from a script, and that real acting is an incredible gift, and that Don Cheadle has the gift, and you do not.
Playing the role of Paul Rusesabagina—who during the 1994 massacre saved over 1200 Tutsis from certain death by housing them in the hotel he was managing (and served as a consultant to this film)—Cheadle brings you into his world: this sick, anarchic place where his wife and children are targets for extinction because of their bloodline, he’s forced to bribe, con and beg for his family and friends’ safety, and where white travellers are being efficiently extracted from the whole sad situation.
In one scene following just another day at the Rwanda office, wherein he witnesses unspeakable horror, Cheadle plays a masterpiece. For perhaps a minute or so, no lines are spoken, and yet volumes are told. The information is flowing out of every wrinkle of his furrowed brow as he attempts to tie his tie--several times. He is a man struggling with the intensity and absurdity of the situation, and he finally falls apart. It is one of those moments you will always remember. (The last time I experienced an acting moment like that was watching Ellen Burstyn's monologue to Harry in Requiem for a Dream, but I digress.)
Paul's wife Tatiana is played by Sophie Okonedo, and she too has moments of brilliance, her eyes and face pulling me right into the scene with her. The only bit of “say what?” casting was that of Nick Nolte in the role of the U.N. peacekeeper, who I thought was completely overmatched by most of the rest of the cast, and it's a shame because his character has one hell of a monologue.
Like The Killing Fields before it, this film delivers a horrible message: people can be really, really bad. I only hope I can somehow help make my corner of the planet a little better. I know that sounds corny, but it's true. Go see this film, and you'll be trying just a little harder too.