By Rob Blackwelder
Where the Oscar-nominated "Hotel Rwanda" was something akin to a "Schindler's List" set during the 1994 genocide in that central African nation, this similarly fact-based and powerful HBO film follows the tragic paths of one family torn apart by those same events, in which 800,000 ethnic Tutsi were massacred by forces of the once-oppressed Hutu majority.
Idris Elba (TV's "The Wire") and Oris Erhuero give emotionally gripping performances as brothers Augustin and Honoré, the former a hesitant Hutu soldier with a Tutsi wife and the latter a radio host who helped stir the angry, machete-wielding masses to slaughter. Writer-director Raoul Peck ("Lumumba") holds nothing back as he traces the body count (280,000 were dead within 15 days) through the fates of Augustin (who survived despite being branded a traitor) and his wife and children (who did not).
Parts of "Sometimes in April" also take place in 2004, during Honoré's tribunal as Augustin (now a teacher) seeks closure. The movie effectively taps into the fear and horror of being trapped in the carnage, but its immediacy is diminished by cutting away to Washington, D.C., for a subplot (starring white B-list stars Americans can recognize) about the failure of the UN and the Western world to intervene. The point is valid but overly blunt, and the difference in scale between the two storylines throws the movie off balance.
Peck also conspicuously avoids covering Honoré's actions once the killing started in earnest, and briefly loses track of Augustin after he escapes to the relative safety of the resort-cum-refugee camp depicted in "Hotel Rwanda," which this film implies is a much safer harbor than it was. But that fact just makes for a great excuse to see both films, which are equally poignant, equally well-acted by their entire casts, and almost perfectly compensate each other's flaws.
*** out of ****
(140m | NR)
Includes director's commentary (conducted by film critic Elvis Mitchell), a slick HBO making-of featurette and a timeline of the Rwandan conflict.
SOUND & PICTURE
Both are well-mastered.
1.85:1 ratio (16x9 enhanced)
SUBS: English, French, Spanish
DVD RATING: ***