In 1994, the civil war in Rwanda reached a climax when extremist members of the Hutu tribe attempted to wipe out the entire Tutsi tribe. Nearly one million Tutsis were massacred while most of the world turned a blind eye.
In the midst of all this turmoil is Paul Ruseabagina (Don Cheadle) — the talented manager of the lush, four-star Hotel Milles Collines in Kigali. Paul knows how to do his job and please his guests, yet when the political situation becomes much more intense, Paul finds himself taking in Tutsi refugees at his hotel. As Rwanda faces total anarchy, he must use his connections, special resources and bribery to keep them safe. Ultimately, Paul saved nearly 1,300 lives with his efforts.
Director and co-writer Terry George has done a superb job with “Hotel Rwanda.” He has taken an ambitious subject, focused it correctly and made an informative film. Unfortunately, the movie falters when George tacks on moments clearly meant to manipulate audiences. Despite the film’s efficacious imagery showing just how brutal the killings of the Tutsi were, there are extraneous moments when the tragedy of the murders is brought up for the sake of added emotional weight. Also, Paul’s devotion to his wife (Sophie Okonedo, “Dirty Pretty Things”) becomes overemphasized, and the focus on the Rwandan orphans seems like a ploy to make watchers feel guilty.
Still, George wisely keeps the focus of this true story on Paul’s evolution as a person, rather than concentrating entirely on the genocide. The film is very much Paul’s story, and works incredibly well because of Cheadle’s flawless performance. Moving up from reliable supporting player, Cheadle proves that he has what it takes to be an charismatic leading performer. Cheadle reaches deep as a man who is at first interested in his family’s survival, but soon discovers that his skill in dealing with people can only go so far. Cheadle effortlessly conveys Paul’s desperation and quick thinking, as well as his fears, frustration and growing courage.
Besides Cheadle, the supporting performances are also impressive. Okonedo holds her own as Paul’s Tutsi wife Tatiana, whose sadness rightfully tugs at the heart, but whose familial love brings the conflicted manager much inner strength. Nick Nolte plays up his gruffness, as usual, as a United Nations peacekeeper who essentially can do nothing, but does his best to help Paul save the refugees.
“Hotel Rwanda” is a significant film, one that was clearly made to tell an empowering if less-familiar story to a wide audience. Despite the chilling subject matter, the movie perfectly encompasses messages of love, survival and compassion. The story hits all the right emotional chords, and Cheadle delivers a powerhouse performance. “Hotel Rwanda” is an astounding reminder of the cruelty of apathy, the constant existence of incongruous hatred and proof that one man can make an altruistic difference.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars