In 1994, tensions between the two primary tribes in Rwanda, the Hutus and the Tutsis, exploded into full out war. “Hotel Rwanda” tells the true story of Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle, “Traffic”), a resourceful Hutu manager of a posh, dignified hotel located on Belgian ground within the country, who helped over a thousand Tutsi refugees by keeping them safe inside his hotel while hell on Earth broke out all over the area.
The easy comparison to make for “Hotel Rwanda” is to set it alongside “Schindler’s List.” Both films feature a kindly soul reaching beyond himself for the greater good, set against the backdrop of horrific genocide (one million Africans were slaughtered during this war). While “Rwanda” doesn’t live to up the standards set by Spielberg’s masterpiece, it does feature its terror in living color (the film is a hard, but deserved PG-13), and draws attention to a moment in African history that hasn’t been dramatized with much effect before.
Writer/director Terry George has covered the Irish experience thoroughly in his films “Some Mother’s Sons,” and “In the Name of the Father,” and he brings to “Rwanda” the same strength of focus to share untold stories to the world. “Rwanda” is an important film, sure to open the eyes of many with its taste of the Rwandan holocaust, but it also retains a powerful dramatic arc that might upset some looking for a more documentary feel to the film. This is Paul’s story first and foremost, and the violent overthrow is seen through his eyes, or overheard on heated Hutu radio broadcasts. George sustains the breathless dramatic tension as we watch Paul sprint around his hotel trying to keep the Hutu army at bay, the ineffective U.N. officials (lead by a gruffer than normal Nick Nolte) on the grounds, and his own Tutsi family alive while his supplies dwindle, members of his staff turn on him, and hope slowly drips away. Brutal violence is seen outside of the hotel, but George keeps the view of atrocities spare, utilizing them only when he needs to make a persuasive point.
As Paul, Don Cheadle crafts a sublime performance that requires far more than what the actor has been giving the cinema for the last few years. This is a touching performance of frantic internal struggling and the craft of smooth talking, and it reveals that Cheadle has something more to offer the art form. He’s wonderful, and the film would be lost without his presence.
Just so certain audience members don’t go home and stick their heads into ovens, “Hotel Rwanda” does end on a slightly hopeful note, which the right choice for this bleak film. While it isn’t the definitive word on the Rwandan holocaust, George has constructed a fine dramatic feature, and a good first step to educating the masses on this disturbing event.Rating: B+