Volume 74, Number 39 | February 2 - 8, 2005


Koch on Film
Assault on Precinct 13 (+) and Hotel Rwanda (+) reviewed

By Ed Koch

Assault on Precinct 13 (+)

You will never see a police movie in the theater or on television filled with more action than this one. Although that action often requires suspension of common sense and plausibility, I enjoyed it. I also enjoyed the flying bullets, the stereotyped criminals and cops, and the exchanges amongst them.

Detective Jake Roenick (Ethan Hawke) was part of an undercover drug operation in Detroit which resulted in the death of two fellow officers. He now relies on prescription drugs and liquor to help him with his self-imposed guilt as a result of that incident and his self-perceived failures in command. Alex Sabian (Maria Bello) is a psychiatrist treating Jake, and there is an attraction between the two.

Jake is currently the desk sergeant at Precinct 13 which is scheduled to permanently close that evening at midnight, New Year’s Eve. The two staff people on duty with him are the secretary, Iris (Drea de Matteo), and Jasper O’Shea (Brian Dennehy) who is retiring from the force. Jasper’s role in the film is murky until the denouement.

Several criminals are unexpectedly brought to the precinct for temporary holding in the building’s cells. The script is a rewrite of an old western, and the action that follows is similar to a sheriff having to defend his prisoner from the approaching mob. In this case, Jake has to prevent Marion Bishop (Laurence Fishburne) from being removed from the cell by friends or enemies.

The script contains lots of mystery as to who is good and who is evil, and there are lots of surprises along the way. Police captain Marcus Duvall (Gabriel Byrne) appears on the scene and has a mystifying role. The screen is filled with helicopter assaults, military tactics, fires, Molotov cocktails, sewer tunnels, and the humor offered up by two criminals in the cellblock. One of them is Beck (John Leguizamo) a minor drug user and seller who never stops talking, and the other is Anna (Aisha Hinds) who swears she has never committed a criminal act but handles a gun and is able to start a car like a pro by crossing wires.

If you need a jolt like an intense espresso to get you moving this is the movie for you. It certainly worked for me.

Hotel Rwanda (+)

This movie, which has been out for several months, is still drawing large audiences as it deserves. I saw it on a recent Friday night, and the theater was nearly filled to capacity.

“Hotel Rwanda” is the story of the abandonment of the Tutsi tribe in Rwanda in 1994 by the African nations and the nations of the world including the United States and the United Nations. The Tutsis, representing 15 percent of the country, were butchered remorselessly by the Hutu, the majority tribe. About 900,000 Tutsis were murdered before an invading Tutsi army from Brundi drove the Hutu into the Congo. A comparable fate at a different time overwhelmed the Tutsi of Burundi, a nation next door to Rwanda with the same tribal divisions.

The two tribes are often described as being different in appearance: the Tutsi are taller and tower over the shorter Hutu. According to the film, the colonizing Belgians viewed the Tutsi as more like Caucasians, identified more with them, and used them to govern the Congo during the period of colonization. When independence occurred, the Tutsi were favored by the government.

The movie depicts the true story of what one man, Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle), did to save nearly one thousand lives. Paul is the manager of the Belgian-owned Hotel Des Milles Collines in the capital city of Kigali. He is a Hutu married to a Tutsi, Tatiana (Sophie Okonedo). When the killings begin, Paul hopes that the residents of his hotel will be protected by the United Nation troops, led by Col. Oliver (Nick Nolte), stationed in Rwanda as peacekeepers. He also relies on the protection of the Rwandan militia and military with whom he has curried favor over the years by bribing their corrupt officers. They protect the hotel only briefly, and when the killings begin, he, the Tutsi refugees and his hotel are at risk.

Cheadle’s performance as an ordinary man using his talents and ability to cajole, threaten, and bribe to keep himself and the refugees alive is superb. He dominates the movie in every way. Ikonedo does a good job in her supporting role as his wife, and Nolte is fine in his secondary role as well. The horror and frenzy of the bloodshed come through in this film, but the viewer is not wrapped in gore. This is not a slasher film. Some of those who participated in the genocide are still awaiting trial in Rwanda. The movie is definitely worth seeing.


– Ed Koch

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