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HOTEL RWANDA (director/writer: Terry George; screenwriter: Keir Pearson; cinematographer: Robert Fraisse; editor: Naomi Geraghty; music: Andrea Guerra/Lorne Balfe/Rupert Gregson-Williams; cast: Don Cheadle (Paul Rusesabagina), Sophie Okonedo (Tatiana Rusesabagina), Nick Nolte (Colonel Oliver), Cara Seymour (Pat Archer), Antonio David Lyons (Thomas), Joaquin Phoenix (Jack); Runtime: 121; MPAA Rating: R; producers: A. Kitman Ho/Terry George; Lions Gate Films/MGM; 2004-South Africa/USA)
“A well-crafted and moving film that relates an important true story that needed to be told.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A disturbing political thriller told in the form of a docudrama. It’s about the 1994 civil war in South Africa’s Rwanda, between Tutsis and Hutus, where after three months of inexcusable non-intervention by the world community there were nearly a million corpses (mostly Tutsi) as a result of one of the worst genocides in history. In this powerful and meaningful true story, filmed for both its epic historical value and personal drama, Don Cheadle plays with compelling urgency the heroic Paul Rusesabagin. Paul’s a competent and sensitive manager of a four star hotel, owned by a Belgian company, who exhibits class and style in efficiently running the hotel and during the emergency uses the hotel to shelter those refugees in danger of losing their lives while placing himself, his wife Tatiana (Sophie Okonedo) and family members in great danger to save the lives of over one thousand refugees.

Director/writer Terry George says he traveled to Rwanda to research the story because he was looking for answers such as, “Why the genocide? and Why was this the fastest genocide in modern history?” The filmmaker is helped in this quest by the real Paul Rusesabagin, who returns to his country for the first time since the atrocities. George is also helped by co-screenwriter Keir Peirson, who put his heart and soul into digging deep within himself to come up with a story that would respectfully capture the horrible events.

The story opens with Paul, a Hutu without bigotry or political ambitions, who is able to survive the country’s growing turmoil as a neutral because of his prominent position. As a genocide has been declared by the majority Hutus over the minority Tutsi, the reasons given are that this is a payback from the old days when the Belgian colonists let the Tutsis control the country and they supposedly abused the majority.

The international press comes to cover the story, and the gruesome atrocities get on the national TV news shows. But despite such graphic evidence of massacres, the American public is apathetic. American journalist Jack (Joaquin Phoenix) hits the American peoples’ reaction right on the head when he says, “If people see this footage, they will go, ‘Oh, God! That’s horrible,’ and then go back to eating their dinner.”

While Paul struggles to save the hordes of Tutsis — the U.N. presence under the leadership of Colonel Oliver (Nick Nolte) can’t help because its hands are tied by restrictions; but, a compassionate Red Cross worker (Cara Seymour) unites with Paul to save the lives of many orphaned children. As the atrocities continue unchecked, things get out of control as Paul under great duress uses his wits to get his family and as many others as possible to safety in other African countries.

Though entertaining due to Cheadle’s marvelous characterization, this film is more about letting the public know what happened and providing the facts about a tragedy that could have been averted with more public awareness and the intervention of the international community. Why the world turned its back on Rwanda is only hinted at as some form of racism, but never fully explored. Despite the drama getting lost in faceless mob scenes and a redundancy of murky violence, Hotel Rwanda is a well-crafted and moving film that relates an important true story that needed to be told.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”