Let me start by saying that Nick Nolte is IMHO one of the most annoying actors on the planet. Like Tom Cruise, he cannot be mercuric enough to meld into a role: even when the film is fantastic, you still know it’s Nick Nolte, not his character. Not so in this film. This is Nolte’s best performance, and there were many moments when I forgot the actor and saw Colonel Oliver instead.
Joaquin Phoenix delivers a strong performance as one of the minor characters. He is a journalist risking his life to document the situation in Rwanda. It is a testament to the skill of the writing and direction that the character, though he has little screen time, is fully developed and the audience understands him and his personal struggles. He delivers the line that affected me most: when speaking to Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle), he says (I’m paraphrasing here) that he’s afraid that people will see what is happening in Rwanda on the evening news, they will say “how terrible,??? and they will do nothing. It’s a chilling line… and it’s true.
Speaking of Cheadle, this is an actor with serious range. I’ve almost always enjoyed his films, and this is no exception. He plays the role as a brilliantly understated man. He could have made the role into an angst-ridden, larger-than-life martyr. The brilliance is that it shows how Rusesabagina starts as a complex and intelligent man, and accepts his role as savior to first his neighbors, then savior to over a thousand people.
My favorite impression of the film is that the people attempted to maintain normalcy even though everything was falling apart. When under extreme stress such as cancer, individuals stop caring how they look. One of the first signs of remission is when the patient starts combing their hair or wearing makeup: they have hope for the future. While wearing a shirt and tie in the face of genocide may seem frivolous, it is this very attempt at composure that allows the hotel staff and guests to maintain it.
The colors, bright and brilliant at first, become muddied as the film progresses, and show their brilliance again in key scenes. The costuming was perfect and the texture of the film is fluid. The sound of the African songs filled the room with deep bass and incredibly moving rhythm. The theme song in particular displayed a great range of highs and lows, with rhythm that begs the audience to stand up and move…just like the film itself does.
I went into my home theatre to be entertained and came out wanting to change the world. While Rwanda may not be in the ruin it was at the time of this film, Sudan and many other parts of subSaharan Africa desparately need help. Closer to home, Haiti struggles under corruption.
I will not watch the evening news and do nothing.
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