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USA 2005
Directed by
Terry George
122 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
4 stars

Hotel Rwanda

Synopsis: Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle) was the manager of a high-class Belgian hotel in Rwanda in 1994 when ethnic conflict erupted. In the course of 100 days more than some 800,000 people were killed while the Western world chose to close its eyes to the slaughter. Paul, of Hutu origins, and married to Tatiana (Sophie Okonedo) a Tutsi, rose to the occasion to save the lives of more than 1200 refugees of both ethnic backgrounds by sheltering them at his hotel.

This true story makes for gripping, inspiring cinema. Director and co-writer Terry George spent time in Rwanda with the real-life Paul Rusesabagina, re-visiting sites, researching, and interviewing survivors. The research and the contributions of the real Paul and Tatiana have resulted in a fine script and the powerful performances bring it to life.

The standpoint from which it views events is crucial to the film's power. There is no attempt to browbeat audiences with the overwhelming horror of the Rwandan genocide, but rather to show the situation as experienced from the personal standpoint of individuals involved as well as showing how one person's courage and compassion can make a huge difference. There are heavily emotional scenes with orphaned and traumatised children and brutalised women, but the director, Terry George, carefully avoids emotional manipulation presenting his story in as lucid a light as possible.

Don Cheadle gives a magnificent performance. From the opening scenes he nails the Local accent so that we forget he's an American, or even an actor. He is an African man in a relatively high status job in a post-colonial country, one who must juggle the conflicting demands of a Western employer and the system of bribery required to make anything happen. Sophie Okonedo is also remarkable in her portrayal of a relatively middle class woman, wife and mother, suddenly thrust into the horror of savage inter-tribal warfare.

Relatively small roles are played by Nick Nolte, as the Canadian leader of a UN peacekeeping force, and Joaquin Phoenix as a Western journalist. Though small parts, they are pivotal as a demonstration of the shameful situation at the time, in which the world basically turned its back on Rwanda, leaving a miniscule UN force (toothless tigers who weren't allowed to even shoot) and journalists who filmed the horror, but were removed safely from the country as it was abandoned to chaos.

It is fitting and important that films such as Hotel Rwanda are seen by as many people as possible in order to raise awareness and at least a glimmer of hope that such atrocities can be prevented in future.




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