Hotel Rwanda (2004) / Drama-War
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence, disturbing images, and language
Running Time: 121 min.
Cast: Don Cheadle, Sophie Okonedo, Nick Nolte, Joaquin Phoenix, Desmond Dube, David O'Hara, Jean Reno, Cara Seymour, Fana Mokoena, Hakeem Kae-Kazim, Tony Kgoroge, Mona Kaiser
Director: Terry George
Screenplay: Keir Pearson, Terry George
Review published January 21, 2005
Although Hotel Rwanda is an emotional story about one manís bravery in the face of chaos, Terry Georgeís (screenwriter for Hartís War and The Boxer) film hits more right notes on an intellectual level. It raises many issues, particularly in the global feeling that Africans are somehow considered less worth saving than people of Europe or America, probably due to racial prejudices. It is these very prejudices that caused the Belgians who inhabited Rwanda to separate the once unified people into Hutu and Tutsi, allowing the Tutsi privileges because they were lighter in skin color, and had narrower noses. The seeds of racism have borne evil fruit, as now people of the same bloodlines kill each other, all because they belong to different arbitrary tribes.
Based on a true story, Hotel Rwanda follows several weeks in the life of Paul Rusesabagina, manager of the plush Hotel Des Milles Collines in Kigali, Rwanda. In 1994, hostile warfare erupted between the two classes of native Rwandans, the Hutu and Tutsi people, when the president is assassinated. The Hutus erupt in outrage, blaming the ďcockroachesĒ for their woes, and soon, they begin a campaign of genocide against the Tutsis. Although Paul is a Hutu, his wife is a Tutsi, as are his neighbors and friends, so he hides them out at his hotel, which is under guard by the UN, and soon converted into a safe haven for refugees. This safe haven doesnít last long, as the world shrugs at the carnage and destruction going on in Rwanda, and the UN pulls out just when they are needed most. With no one to protect them, it is up to Paul and his savvy people skills to try to keep everyone under his care alive, including his wife and children, and everything he holds dear.
When all is said and done, Hotel Rwanda will most likely be remembered for the strong performance by Don Cheadle (The Assassination of Richard Nixon, After the Sunset), who finally is given a role where he can come into his own as one of the premier actors in Hollywood. Cheadle gives Paul the necessary empathy that is crucial to make this story work, in a passionate and heartbreaking performance that rivals all he has done before. Solid supporting players surround him, with choice roles going to well known actors as Nick Nolte (Hulk, The Good Thief), Joaquin Phoenix (The Village, Ladder 49), and Jean Reno (Rollerball, Jet Lag). However, perhaps the best performance of the film, with all due respect to Cheadle, comes from Sophie Okenedo (Dirty Pretty Things), as Paulís long-suffering Tutsi wife, Tatiana. She finally has a role that will make people forget she was the Wachati Princess in Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls.
Hotel Rwanda will obviously be compared to a similar film about a man who saved as many from certain holocaust, Schindlerís List, but outside of the similar themes, Hotel Rwanda isnít the work of art that Spielbergís film was, with its very straightforward narrative fashion. It is still very compelling stuff nonetheless, although it does lack that real emotional punch that turns very good films into great, lasting masterpieces. For putting a human face on the civil war in Rwanda, and for all future wars in remote regions filled with people who may not look or speak the same language as the rest of us, Hotel Rwanda more than succeeds in relating just why it is so important to not turn a blind eye to events happening in other countries. The sad irony is, one million dead, but it is only after seeing actors re-enacting what played out on the news with real people can the rest of the world finally feel a sense of horror and shame.
©2005 Vince Leo