Hotel Rwanda

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Movie Review by Neils Hesse

Starring: Don Cheadle, Nick Nolte, Sophie Okonedo, Desmond Dube
Director: Terry George

Some people are calling this film the African SCHINDLER’S LIST and indeed there are similarities but you cannot compare such powerful acts of bravery because in doing so you would inevitably be lowering the impact of one of them and you would also be questioning the authenticity of both Germany’s Oskar Schindler and Rwanda’s Paul Rusesabagina.

The film opens in Rwanda in 1994 (it was actually filmed in South Africa) with hotel manager; Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle) in a white hotel van doing his daily liquor shopping for the hotel. Along the way he encounters one of the first signs of the unrest to come in the form of a mob of Hutu people chanting their words of hatred for the Tutsi people of their country. The situation initially seems calm and Paul, who happens to be a Hutu himself, is convinced that nothing will come of it until the assassination of their country’s president acts as a catalyst to the already volatile environment.

Shortly after this Paul literally pays for the lives of a group of Tutsis or ‘cockroaches’ as the Hutu extremists refer to them, including his wife also a Tutsi. All the foreign nationals are soon evacuated and consequently Paul is convinced that the United Nations will surely come and save him and all the Tutsi people at his hotel too but to his horror and shock they leave them to die like cattle. Paul now finds himself in the position of being the only means of survival for all the Tutsis remaining in the hotel, as he knows that whoever is turned away will surely be slaughtered. All the people left in the hotel now realise that their lives are all in Paul’s hands and he uses his many connections in Rwanda and abroad to try and save these individuals lives.

Terry George writes, produces and directs this compelling tale of one man’s triumph against a world of denial and hypocrisy that lead him to saving lives and turned him into a true African hero. The director wisely chooses to leave the gruesome aspects of the story off screen and in the imagination of the viewer as if he had shown it would be a very different film. The film concentrates instead on the reaction of one man, Paul Rusesabagina, to an impossible situation, and even though the film does force the viewer to accept the sheer disregard the world displayed to the genocide unfolding in Rwanda, it also has an upbeat spin to it in that celebrates the power of the human spirit in this one man against almost impossible odds.

The central performance by Don Cheadle is a tour de force that at this point in time is the performance of his life. He masterly combines the tenacious, honest, decent, compassionate and brilliant aspects of his character. One particularly powerful scene sees him calmly wash off blood from his body that has come from bodies piled upon other bodies along the roads, but then as he tries to change into clean clothing he finally takes it all in and breaks down into tears. Yet he still refuses to allow anyone to see him in this emotional state as he needs to be strong for them – a powerful scene that could easily have faded into melodrama but in his case he draws you in to his personal horrific realisation of what he has just witnessed.

Sophie Okonedo playing his Tutsi wife does an excellent job at portraying an ordinary African wife/mother who loves and fully trusts her husband with no or very few questions asked. Nick Nolte does an adequate job as a United Nations peacekeeper with no capacity or power to stop the murders.

This is a film that the whole world should see, not because it is great entertainment but because it is so much more than that. This will resonate in your head for many days afterwards and in fact it may well stay with you forever. Definitely a must see.

6 out of 6 stars