Hotel Rwanda - an opportunity missed

The first hint that there’s something wrong with this film that purports to deal with the killing of a million people in 1994 can be found on the DVD, which is emblazoned with “ACADEMY AWARD” in big letters on one side and “GOLDEN GLOBE” on the other. In both instances, a closer look reveals that the film was only nominated - it didn’t win any. One up for the panel of judges.

This is a film that simply fails to engage, one that left this viewer more or less uncaring about the people who died in Rwanda – quite an achievement – a film that uses radio and TV bulletins to spread its propaganda in soundbites (“France armed the Hutus”, “The Belgian colonists chose the aquiline Tutsi to help them run their empire and thus caused the war”). The US, UK and Italy also get thrown in the mix at various points, as the guilt is shovelled around, leaving the German viewer pleased that the Hun isn’t being blamed for this “Holocaust”.

The clichés are as nauseating as they are predictable. The hack reporter who is thrilled with the footage of a massacre is British (a Scot this time, as Hollywood shows it knows there’s more to England than London), while his photographer (a Hemingway figure who got the footage by dodging among the machetes) is American. He doesn’t only get the footage, he gets the Tutsi bird (the one without the flaring nostrils but with the flaring passion for corny pick-up lines at the bar) as well.

From time to time the tedium is underscored by the appearance of a very tired looking Nick Nolte, who looks far too old for his bright blue UN bib. He bumbles around for the most part (drinking Paul’s single malt and aging with very scene) before he saves the day and his convoy with only his pistol, magically getting the black guys to fight each other and even healing a tire shredded by a black guy’s bullet.

It may indeed be the case that the west doesn’t care about black guys (black birds are different, as Joaquin Phoenix shows); it may also be the case that the west cared more about “Yugoslavia” (coz they were whitey), but that’s no excuse for being a lazy film-maker.

All I can say is that does sound like the movie I saw. And, if you really believe that:

and that that’s a bad thing how come you only mention the few white characters in the story, when the main characters (for once, in a western movie about africa! amen!) are actually black?

I think Hotel Rwanda is a great and important film. Just because a film doesn’t win an academy award doesn’t mean it isn’t great. First of all it was nominated…which means according to the academy it was in the top five best list. A pretty good honor.

While I have little knowledge of the details of the Rwanda conflict, I feel I can add something towards other problems you found. You state that the reporters are cliches, yet the story is based on a true story (watch the interview with the man who survived) Likely they asked for his input. I like the movie because it doesn’t blame one person or nation for the conflict, but many. Most conflicts are a result of many factors not just one.

I also like the movie because it is interested in the story of the main character and doesn’t melodramaticize the conflict. It simply shows how a man and his family survived it.

Most of your criticisms are focused at the secondary aspects of the film (secondary characters, the instigation of the plot) What did you think of the cinematography, main characters, acting, historical accuracy, film score, etc?


Is it safe to suppose that this bit of inaccuracy is deliberately included in the OP merely to be silly, annoying or both?

While I wouldn’t be quite so deterministic about it, at one level this is a historical fact. Belgium took a ( somewhat ) permeable class system ( while the words Hutu and Tutsi had ethnic overtones and originated as distinct tribes, by the immediate pre-colonial period they had become essentially economicclasses and one could become a “Hutu” or “Tutsi” simply by moving up and down the economic ladder from herdsman to farmer ) and transformed it into an impermeable caste system based on the erroneous racialist science of the day.

  • Tamerlane

I think that was a major failure on the Academy’s part. Marvellous as Jamie Foxx was in Ray, he was doing a crowd-pleasing impersonation of a famous guy. Cheadle took on tougher part and was better.

Says you. Everybody I spoke to said they were choked up for the entire film. I could hardly breathe at times.

Are you suggesting it’s misplaced?

If I ran the Oscars, Hotel Rwanda would’ve been nominated for and won Best Picture last year.

I love Don Cheadle, I’m fascinated by the tragedy in Rwanda…and I thought this movie was a total bore-fest.

There was no compelling narrative at all in this movie. It was a few facts about Rwanda dropped in between endless scenes of Cheadle looking out a window, worried…or yet again telling everyone his hotel was full. It was actually amazing how emotionally detached I felt throughout the entire thing. (Especially compared to Schindler’s List, which this movie was clearly trying to emulate).

I think the nominations and the good reviews were simply for the good intentions on behalf of the filmmakers. What are you gonna do? Pan a movie that tries to address the Rwanda tragedy? Criticize the lack of script?

There is a great movie to be made about this subject…but Hotel Rwanda, I’m afraid, isn’t it.

I have to admit this thread is really, really odd. Why? I saw Rwanda a couple hours ago for the first time and I found myself wishing there was a thread I could discuss it in.

Apparently we watched totally different movies. I found myself crying throughout the entire thing. OK, I’m going to disclose a few minor parts, but the movies been out a while, so I don’t think I need spoiler boxes. Don’t read any further if you fear spoilers.

When Paul is buying beer towards the beginning and a box of machetes fell, I started crying. Mainly because I knew exactly what they were to be used for.

A few minutes later when Paul gave his kids candy and they were all smiles, I started crying. I knew what was going to happen.

I cried for the next two hours and, generally, I am not a crier.

This wasn’t just some silly movie where a script was hastily written-it was reality. In fact, the reality was a whole lot more gruesome then what was presented. Perhaps knowing the reality made the movie for me.

The acting was amazing, the utilization of media from the time (news clips, etc) made a huge differnece in the movie, the cinamatagrophy was wonderful.

I liked it. It made me think about what I was doing then and why I didn’t learn about the genocide until a year ago. It made me wonder why no one did anything? It made me THINK. Most movies can’t do that.

Same reason the critics loved Pearl Harbor. :wink:

It may be a product of circumstances, but I never cared for Schindler’s List. I agre that the comparisons are obvious, though.

Check out the Frontline documentary Ghosts of Rwanda, for an excellent–though heartbreaking and disturbing–look at the Rwandan genocide.

Also there’s a new movie out, Shake Hands with the Devil, about the Canadian general Romeo Dallaire, on whom the Nick Nolte Character in Hotel Rwanda, was based. I haven’t seen it, but it’s gotten some good reviews.

I think you’re putting far too much stock in the Oscars. I can count on one hand the number of times the Oscar has gone to the movie that was actually most deserving, and that’s only if you limit it to the movies that were nominated that year. The whole thing is a meaningless industry circle-jerk, and not in anyway indicative of the merit of the movies being awarded.

I read the book (Paul Rusesabagina’s story is in it) We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch just a few weeks before I saw Hotel Rwanda in the theatre. It was a hard book for me to get through, I had to take several breaks from reading to cry or just absorb the weight of it.

I’d highly recommend the book for anyone interested in learning more about this tragic event.

I found the film to be very good. Both my husband and I cried through most of it.

I agree, and the fact that the film-makers/-distributors buy into it is telling indeed.

I don’t see why it’s “telling.” It’s a box, and they’re attempting to convince you that the film is good. It’s a “don’t take **my word for it…” strategy. The fact that Hotel Rwanda got more or less overlooked in favor of movies about people who were already famous could be taken as a confirmation of Nolte’s character’s comments.

A friend of mine is Tutsi, and while he was not in Rwanda at the time, most of his family was. His father was killed and his mother barely made it out.

He didn’t like the movie, for reasons similar to the OP.

I’ll see if I can get hold of it. Are there any books that cover the Hutu/Tutsi conflict? I’d like to read more after I’ve finished Halliday/Chang’s Mao: The Unknown Story, which will, the authors hope, soon be avaialble in Chinese versions.

I just read your comment concerning your Tutsi friend. While it’s unfair and indecorous to cite that as corroboration, in my original piece I did try to approach the film at least in part from the point of view of those who had experienced the madness in some way.