Many Americans have closed their eyes and ears to the 1994 massacre in the impoverished African country of Rwanda. Casualties were almost a million and hundreds of thousands of orphans were left without food, shelter and family. On April 6, Rwandan President Habyarimana was killed and a revolution sparked between two rival African groups: the Hutus and the Tutsis. Luckily, writer /director Terry George (The Boxer) makes it nearly impossible to keep this heart-wrenching story buried. With an inspiring message that spans across time and through generations, Hotel Rwanda is the type of movie that promotes change. Instead of positioning the story of Rwanda as a historical account of events, George takes a chance in recounting the life of a local hero, Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle), and the risks he took to save the lives of many.
Hotel Rwanda starts where the tragedy begins. Rusesabagina is house manager of the luxurious Des Mille Collines. Along with checking in guests, he must use his wise business sense to buy supplies from a rebellious Hutu who strives to get Rusesabagina involved in taking a stand against the Tutsis. At first, Rusesabagina is in denial; afraid of getting involved and ignorant enough to believe that peace between the Hutus and the Tutsies is underway. Tension mounts when his neighbors are raided and beaten down simply because of their identity. When his own wife and children are threatened and the community is forced out of their homes, reality sets in for Rusesabagina. As chaos ensues, United Nations forces, previously stationed to help, leave the Rwandans with nothing but their own bruised will. Tutsi refugees turn to the Hutu Rusesabagina for help. Now, only one man can open his heart and his hotel to the hundreds of fleeing Tutsis and save Rwanda and its identity.
Hotel Rwanda seems to portray plenty of accurate depictions. Most interesting is the range of relationships between the white Americans and the Rwandans in need. There are the tourists who forcefully pry their way out of the country in a selfish effort to distance themselves from any sort of controversy. Nick Nolte plays Colonel Oliver, a U.N. official who recognizes Rusesabagina’s intelligence, yet sees the world in black and white. It is the young Jack, Joaquin Phoenix (The Village), a US news cameraman that views the tragedy objectively. When he grows close to an African Rwandan refugee, Jack has some crucial decisions to make.
The most deserving performance goes to Don Cheadle who single-handedly brought George’s script bouncing off the page into a realm of true reality. It is not only assuring, but also refreshing to see Cheadle shine in a dramatic leading role where he can prove to audiences he’s much more than a serial con man. Cheadle’s portrayal of Rusesabagina is powerful in scenes where the actor shivers while driving over a sea of dead and bloody bodies in the streets of Kigali, Rwanda. It is said that Terry George had Don Cheadle in mind for the part since the film’s birth, yet the studio was keener to cast Denzel Washington or Wesley Snipes. Cheadle won the role and frankly, no other African-American could have played Rusesabagina better.
With Hotel Rwanda, Terry George crafts a script with delicate detail to expose the harsh reality of terror and hatred. This movie is about the fight; an ongoing battle for love, heritage, community and freedom. Hotel Rwanda goes the extra length beyond the death tolls, facts, and figures to a place that warms the heart. This film shines on the big screen not only as a heroic journey, but a way to channel the importance of peace in our world.