A brief history lesson: In 1994, the African country of Rwanda was torn apart by a civil war between two ethnic groups: the Hutus and the Tutsis.

“Hotel Rwanda” is the true story of how hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle, “Boogie Nights”) saved the lives over 1,200 Tutsi refugees by offering them sanctuary in his hotel.

Filled with apathy, despair and eventually hope, “Hotel Rwanda” is an intricately woven biopic that focuses on the life of Rusesabagina and his family. Rusesabagina is a Hutu, but his wife Tatiana (Sophie Okonedo, “Dirty Pretty Things”) is a Tutsi. As a relatively wealthy hotel manager, Rusesabagina is able to use bribes and influential contacts from the hotel to procure safety for himself and his family. However, his conscience gets the better of him as he eventually puts his family at risk by sheltering Tutsis in his hotel.

Don Cheadle turns in a mesmerizing performance as Rusesabagina. He deftly displays his linguistic skills again in utilizing an effective African accent, and he succeeds in capturing the internal struggle of a man torn between his instincts of self-preservation and his conscience. Playing Rusesabagina’s wife, Tatiana, Oscar-nominated Okonedo is extremely effective at capturing the terror created by the ubiquitous threats. In supporting parts, Nick Nolte (“The Thin Red Line”) plays a U.N. general and Joaquin Phoenix (“Gladiator”) plays a cameraman bent on showing the world the true nature of this tragedy. Though the film tackles issues of death and violence, the film shies away from the more graphic visuals.

Color and sound are crisp and clean on the DVD. Many of the special features are dedicated to documenting the actual events that happened during the Rwandan genocide. Included are interviews with the real Paul Rusesabagina and other characters depicted in the movie as they return to Rwanda for the first time since fleeing as refugees. Especially haunting is their trip to a memorial for the victims of the war — nearly one million by its end.

In a genre typically characterized by forced pathos, “Hotel Rwanda” stands apart as a genuine testament to the compassion of a man compelled to do extraordinary works in the face of daunting odds. It is an emotionally disturbing film about rampant apathy in the face of unspeakable atrocities, and yet, for all the suffering and death, it is ultimately a film that celebrates life and human kindness. And this, above all, gives cause for hope.



Film: 4 out of 5 stars

Picture/Sound: 4 out of 5 stars

Features: 4 out of 5 stars

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