Thursday, February 03, 2005

Movie: Hotel Rwanda (2004)

Preconceived notions play a big role in whether I’ll see a movie. I still haven’t caught FINDING NEVERLAND in spite of the presence of Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet, multiple Oscar nods, and the opinion of one critic I respect that it’s the best film of 2004. I can’t help it. The previews make it look like a typical high-toned weepie, and I’ve seen enough of those, thank you very much.

I had similar expectations about HOTEL RWANDA. I feared it was going to be a political film in the style of Stanley Kramer, high on ideals and low on drama. I overcame my resistance for two reasons: Don Cheadle and co-writer/director Terry George, whose films about Northern Ireland (like SOME MOTHER’S SON and IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER) ground real-world concerns in recognizable human dynamics.

He does the same here, keeping his focus firmly on Paul Rusesabagina, who turned the Kigali hotel he managed into a refuge during the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Cheadle, always a reliable actor, is magnificent here as a man who finds a whole new use for his skill at greasing wheels. He makes the term ‘manager’ seem like the most noble of titles. Paul, like Cheadle, concentrates on the details, criticizing the housekeeping staff even as hundreds of refugees flood the premises. There’s an utterly heartbreaking scene when Paul, convinced that the hotel is about to be overrun, thanks the head of the company (a potently effective cameo by Jean Reno) on the phone for all that the firm has done for him.

If I were an Academy voter – and by God, I ought to be – this year I’d tick the box next to Cheadle’s name. Flawlessly recreating the mannerisms of a well-known entertainer is a true feat, as is subverting your image as one of the screen’s great tough guys. But Cheadle did something far harder: he convinced me that a man this good was real.

Miscellaneous: Links

The New York Times on the difficulties of seeing Oscar nominated films in the heartland. Slate’s Middlebrow feature, which offers sharp analyses of mainstream cultural figures like Michael Crichton and Dave Barry, turns its eye to James Cameron. And plans for an art show in which every piece has been stolen go awry. Seems to me that if they were going to do this right, they’d have stolen the gallery space, too.