Movie Project #41 and #42: Once Upon a Time in the West [1968] and The Thin Red Line [1998]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

Once Upon a Time in the West [1968]
Once Upon a Time in the West [1968, Sergio Leone]
Starring Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, Claudia Cardinale.

My experience with Sergio Leone is limited. Out of his filmography, I have only seen The Good, The Bad & The Ugly, which I should probably watch again at some point. Once Upon a Time in the West bares a number of striking similarities to that epic — particularly its extended running time, masterful soundtrack and extraordinary cinematography. The opening scene alone, which has very little dialogue, captivated me from the start. Not much happened during this sequence, yet I was absolutely intrigued. The stunning shots of the wild west combined with extreme closeups of the characters’ faces were truly a thing of beauty.

It was also a lot of fun to see Henry Fonda play the villain, which is something I hadn’t seen him do before. Charles Bronson was excellent as his harmonica-playing adversary, and it was a real treat watching Claudia Cardinale as the dame caught up in the whole mess. While there was certainly a lot that I loved about the film, I was still a little turned off by the sheer longevity of it all. Leone sure loved to milk every scene as long as possible, and his attention to detail is extraordinary. I felt a little burned out by the end of the movie, but it certainly left a lasting impression on me. 8.5/10

The Thin Red Line [1998]
The Thin Red Line [1998, Terrence Malick]
Starring Jim Caviezel, Sean Penn, Nick Nolte.

Terrence Malick, seemingly a favorite director amongst movie bloggers, is someone I know I should become more familiar with. The Thin Red Line is the first film I have seen from him, and I figured this would be a great place to start, given my interest in World War II. The movie tells the story of a group of U.S. soldiers during the Battle of Mount Austen. We are introduced to a large ensemble cast of soldiers, including the likes of Jim Caviezel, Sean Penn, Adrien Brody, John Cusack, Woody Harrelson, Elias Koteas, Nick Nolte and more. This is a really impressive group of guys, but the fact that so many were introduced made it considerably more difficult to get to know them. Outside of a few major characters, including a fantastic turn by Nolte, we learn little about most of these soldiers. In a way, however, this is just the way war is. Men are sent to perform their duties, and new faces are brought in to replace those who have fallen.

The Thin Red Line moves along at a very methodical pace, and I can see how this would deter some viewers. I didn’t mind this at all, as it gave us a chance to see Malick’s stunning shots of Guadalcanal, a beautiful island now interrupted with violent warfare. One thing that did bother me, at least somewhat, was an over-reliance on philosphophical voiceovers. I don’t have a problem with these in general, but they happened too often for my liking. Still, there’s no question that TTRL is a visually astonishing film that offers a completely different (and refreshing) take on WWII compared to 1998’s other big film, Saving Private Ryan. 8/10

Movie Project #10: Hotel Rwanda [2004]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

Hotel Rwanda [2004]

Hotel Rwanda [2004]
Directors: Terry George
Genre: Biography/Drama/History
Language: English/French
Country: USA

Going into Hotel Rwanda, I kept hearing the same things.

“That is a real tearjerker.”

“That movie is so sad. Make sure to have a box of tissues nearby.”

Well, after watching it, I can certainly understand these sentiments.

The movie is about a horrifying time in the African country of Rwanda. The year is 1994, and a major civil war has broken out between two ethnic groups: the Hutu and Tutsi. The Hutus have pushed the Tutsi out of power and are now concentrating their efforts on mass genocide of the Tutsis.

Caught in the middle of this brutality is Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle) the manager of the four-star Sabena Hôtel des Mille Collines. He is Hutu, his wife Tatiana (Sophie Okonedo) is Tutsi. As the violence worsens, his hotel becomes something of an oasis for nearby refugees. Paul’s role quickly becomes that of a diplomat, carefully negotiating with rebels and military figures in order to obtain rations and maintain the safety of those staying with him. This becomes a thin line, as he struggles to maintain a balance between all of this.

Hotel Rwanda [2004]

Paul’s appeals for help reap little rewards. The UN has peacekeeping forces in the area led by Colonel Oliver (Nick Nolte), but they can offer little help. They have guns, but are ordered not to fire them. Oliver and his men do all they can, mainly by attempting to transfer refugees to “safe” locations, but it is clear that they have little support from those outside of the warzone. The president of Paul’s hotel chain, Mr. Tillens (Jean Reno), is mortified by what is going on, but again, his hands are pretty much tied. It’s a giant clusterfuck, as everyone is aware of the atrocities being committed but nothing is being done about it.

This is all very much a true story, and the end result shows that nearly one million people died during this genocide. Paul was able to save over 1,200 people with his hotel, which is absolutely remarkable.

Rather than focusing on showing us the countless murders, Hotel Rwanda demonstrates the power of men who want to do good. As a respected man in the area, Paul has chances to leave with his family, but he opts to stay and try to save some lives. I was pleased that the movie took this route, as it was not necessary to show endless moments of brutality in order to convey its message. This is about the power of humanity, and those who did everything they could to help in a terrifying situation.

Hotel Rwanda [2004]

Not enough can be said of Don Cheadle’s performance here. He is absolutely fantastic, perfectly portraying the despair and anguish his character is feeling, while at the same time showing the strength necessary to help his fellow people. His Oscar nomination was well deserved. Sophie Okonedo is excellent as his wife, and the rest of the cast is strong as well, even including a small role from Joaquin Phoenix as a news cameraman.

In short, Hotel Rwanda is a powerful and moving film that sheds some light on a massive genocide that most people either didn’t know about or didn’t care enough about. It’s depressing, yet also uplifting in a way thanks to the fact that one man was able to help save so many lives. Just incredible.

9/10