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Thursday, Feb. 3, 2005 01:34 pm

movie reviews

Hotel Rwanda

One man who made a difference

Intent on a program of rapid ethnic cleansing, Hutu militias in Rwanda slaughtered 800,000 members of the Tutsi tribe and moderate Hutus during 100 blood-soaked days in 1994.

Paul Rusesabagina, a Hutu, would have been free to flee the country but would not do so: Wife Tatiana is Tutsi, and their children are of mixed heritage; escape, for them, was impossible. Rusesabagina, the manager of an upscale hotel, not only acted to protect his family but also saved 1,268 Tutsis — people he didn’t know — at great personal risk.

Terry George’s Hotel Rwanda tells the courageous Rusesabagina’s fascinating story. Brutal in its depiction of the atrocities that occurred in Rwanda a decade ago, the film is a compelling account of a case of modern genocide that unfolded while nations around the world did nothing.

George shows Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle) as a first-rate hotel manager, a resourceful man who tends to his guests’ needs and calmly resolves any problem. These skills stand him in good stead when the fighting in Rwanda breaks out and he and his family are trapped in the hotel.

Press reports about the unfolding carnage are carried outside Rwanda but go ignored, and soon members of the fourth estate are ousted from the country. Although United Nations forces are present, they are not allowed to engage the Hutu extremists, tying the hands of Rusesabagina’s chief ally, Canadian Col. Oliver (Nick Nolte).

George does a masterful job of laying out a complex situation in an easy-to-understand manner, accurately capturing the turmoil and palpable fear that swept the nation. Each of Rusesabagina’s encounters with Hutu officials will twist the guts of even the most jaded viewer.

Much has been made of Cheadle’s performance, and all of the accolades he’s earned for it are well deserved. Confident and comfortable early on, increasingly desperate and almost manic as the situation worsens, the actor digs deep here to depict a man with convictions of steel who somehow found the strength and patience to survive a situation in which impulsive action would have meant certain doom. Cheadle, an Academy Award nominee for Best Actor, delivers a subtle, powerful performance that epitomizes grace under pressure, a quality that the brave, brave Rusesabagina was able to turn to his benefit and to that of the people he selflessly protected.

Darin' to commit teen idolatry

Actor Kevin Spacey aims high in Beyond the Sea, his directorial debut. The screen biography of entertainer Bobby Darin navigates the highs and lows of the entertainer’s remarkable career; attempts to re-create the glitz and glamour of Hollywood musical spectacles, and tries to take a postmodern look at the entire biopic genre. It should come as no surprise that Spacey falls a bit short, but that’s not for lack of trying or, certainly, enthusiasm. Spacey throws himself into the role with reckless abandon, and his energy and commitment ultimately help carry the film over its rough patches.

Spacey — who, at 45, is eight years older than Darin was when he died — confronts the obvious age difference by taking an unexpected and fresh approach. When we first see Spacey as Darin, belting out “Mack the Knife,” he’s not performing at a Vegas club; rather, he’s on a Hollywood soundstage, filming a documentary about his life. Throughout the film, the too-old-to-be-alive Darin is confronted by a younger version of himself (dazzling newcomer William Ullrich), who appears throughout the film whenever Darin begins to stray from the truth. It’s a brilliant stroke that allows Spacey to relate Darin’s story as memory.

Even if you don’t know Darin’s biography, the story is a familiar tale of an individual forced to overcome adversity before reaching stardom. In the singer’s case, adversity came in the form of a childhood bout with rheumatic fever that damaged his heart. Darin was raised by his mother, Polly (Brenda Blethyn), as well as older sister Nina (Caroline Aaron) and her husband, Charlie (Bob Hoskins), all of whom instilled in him the belief that he could achieve any goal he set for himself. A veteran of vaudeville, Polly passed on her love of music and performing to Bobby, a passion that gave him the will to live.

Darin’s life was a whirlwind. In a mere seven years after bursting on the scene with his first hit, “Splish Splash,” Darin won two Grammys, was nominated for an Academy Award, had more than a dozen singles in the top 25 on the Billboard chart, and married starlet Sandra Dee (Kate Bosworth, in a fine turn). His career, however, began to tank in the late ’60s, and Darin died after open-heart surgery in 1973.

Spacey has made no bones about the fact that this is a vanity project, and although he has constructed a loving homage to Darin, there is a sense that we aren’t getting the complete picture.  

Also in theaters this week. . .

Being Julia [R] The reigning diva of the 1930s-era London stage falls head over heels for a young American, but she learns he’s a social climber who is chasing another young starlet. Parkway Pointe

The Boogeyman [PG-13] A man (Barry Watson) is forced to return home to face the memories of a traumatic childhood. ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East

Coach Carter [PG-13] Samuel L. Jackson stars as a high-school basketball coach in Richmond, Calif., who pushes his players to excel in the classroom. ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East

Hide and Seek [R] After her mother commits suicide, the daughter of David Callaway (Robert De Niro) finds solace, then terror, in an imaginary friend. ShowPlace West,
ShowPlace East

In Good Company [PG-13] Dan Foreman  is a middle-aged exec who gets a youthful boss. Complicating matters: Foreman’s daughter is dating the boss. ShowPlace West

Million Dollar Baby [PG-13] Clint Eastwood stars as a boxing trainer who, with the prodding of his partner, agrees to train a promising female pugilist. ShowPlace East, ShowPlace West

Racing Stripes [PG] Stripes, an abandoned zebra, grows up thinking he’s a racehorse. Parkway Pointe, ShowPlace East

The Saddest Music in the World [not rated] During the Depression Lady Port-Huntly, a wealthy Canadian, holds a global competition for the “saddest” music, attracting woeful musicians from around the world. Brookens Auditorium (UIS)

Sideways [R] A failed writer/divorcé and his best friend, a faded actor, take a weeklong trip through California wine country, where they explore their failures and drink wine. Parkway Pointe

The Wedding Date [PG-13] To fool her ex-fiancé, Kat Ellis (Debra Messing) hires a male escort (Dermot Mulroney) to pose as her boyfriend at her sister’s wedding. ShowPlace West

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