In 1994 when Rwanda descended into the bloody madness of genocide Paul Ruseasabagina (Don Cheadle) was reasonably secure in his process. He belonged to the Hutu majority that was slaughtering the minority with machetes and he was the manger of the five-star Hotel Milles Collines in Kigali. But his wife, Tatiana (Sophie Okonedo), is Tutsi and the Tutsi are not only being called "cockroaches" on the nonstop incendiary radio broadcasts they are being exterminated like them. Not only are his wife and children in danger, so is the rest of his family and so are the guests in his hotel. It is up to Ruseasabagina to do something about this madness simply because there is nobody else to do the job (it would be easier to call the character Paul, but given the story it seems important to focus on the fact he was an African).
"Hotel Rwanda" is a true story, and even though we know going in that Ruseasabagina is going to save over a thousand refugees this is still a harrowing story. For the most part the genocide happens outside the walls of the hotel, but there are enough scenes and stories of what is happening to make it clear that the people huddled in the hotel are in mortal danger. What is probably the most unforgettable moment comes while a van is being driven through the fog and appears to have gone off the road (the DVD extras also contain scenes of the unforgettable way the Tutsi have memorialized the victims of the slaughter at one location).
The explanation for why the United Nations, the Europeans, the Americans, or anybody else with a speck of humanity in them does not intervene to stop the genocide is articulated by the Colonel Oliver character played by Nick Nolte, who tells Ruseasabagina that the problem is that these are just black Africans killing other black Africans. The words are spoken in disgust and are brutal, but they are horribly true and what redeems Oliver is not only that is he is willing to articulate the brutal truth but that there will come a point where orders to stand by and do nothing are no longer going to be obeyed. Likewise, the cameraman played by Joaquin Phoenix provides a memorable scene as the Europeans leave the Milles Collines and the character is so shamed not only by the retreat but also by the presence of a hotel employee holding an umbrella over their heads in the pouring rain.
But there is one person who cannot turn his back on what is happening. Ruseasabagina is literally the right person in the right place, because only the hotel could have become a refuge for the Tutsi and only the manager of a five-star hotel could have known exactly how to placate the military men leading the massacre. Not only does he speak their language, there is a sense in which they want to speak his as well, showing that even though their arms are covered in blood they can play the role of a civilized man. Cheadle's performance, deservedly nominated for a Best Actor Oscar, is appropriately controlled just as Ruseasabagina had to be in persuading these thugs to help him. He cracks only once when a mundane part of his preparing for his job suddenly becomes an impossibility to manage. He is also a hero who is flawed, making mistakes and trying desperately to do the right thing, even if that means forcing his wife to make a fateful promise or abandoning his family to try and save others.
There is an obvious comparison to be made between "Hotel Rwanda" and "Schindler's List." But watching this 2004 film I could not help thinking that if during the Holocaust there had been images of Nazis herding Jews into the concentration camps on the nightly news nobody would have done anything either (but if a whale is trapped in an ice flow in the arctic a rescue mission shall be sent). Stories such as this emphasize the small number doing good against the large number doing evil, but there is always that even larger number signifying all the people who do nothing and assent to the evil by their silence. Those who watch "Hotel Rwanda" will find themselves counted among that final number and should well remember that even if they were oblivious to what happened in Rwanda history will repeat itself is this regard and give us another chance to do the right thing.
"The Kite Runner" may be the best book I have read in recent history, and without a doubt, "Hotel Rwanda" wins the corresponding prize for movies. Unable to believe the senseless violence and slaughter of innocents, my eyes opened wider and wider as the movie progressed, until at some point, the tears could not be held back any longer.
Don Cheadle aces a career making role as Paul Rusesabagina, the quiet, understated hotel manager of a five star hotel in Kigali, Rwanda, who breaks every rule in the management book to protect not only the hotel guests, but refugees from both sides of the genocide that rocked Rwanda in 1994, while the rest of the world looked the other way.
A Hutu by birth and passport stamp, Paul is married to a Tutsi woman (Sophie Okonedo, whose voice changes drastically in octave as the role demands), and by this distinction, his children are also Tutsi, and therefore branded as cockroaches to be exterminated.
Because of his position and well-placed contacts, Rusesabagina is able to cling tenuously to his little safe house, putting up a brave front for the 1200 people he is sheltering from the Hutu tribal forces. When he finds out that the UN peacekeepers cannot help them, and that the rest of the world doesn't want to know about African problems, he resorts to the local language, securing protection by whatever means necessary from the authorities, led by General Bizimungu, who has a weakness for Scottish water of life, foreign currency and self preservation. Being only human, and in a crisis situation, he makes crucial errors in judgment, but by his conviction he manages to hold it all together for as long as necessary.
There are too many powerful scenes to describe, and you have to watch the movie to fully appreciate the horror. There are no gory images as in "Saving Private Ryan" or "Blade", but the Director manages to effectively portray the despair and mass killings without being offensively graphic or crude. One of the most heart rending scenes takes place on a road in the early morning fog, and this is the final straw that rips through Rusesabagina's brittle façade of being in control.
Joaquin Phoenix (you know I have to mention him), in a small role as a cameraman sums it up best when he said "I've never been so ashamed."
This one is a must see.
Amanda Richards, May 23, 2005
on January 11, 2005
This is a movie that is unforgettable in it's accurate portrayal of human brutality. It is an ugly indictment of the West's refusal to intervene in a crisis that allowed unspeakable slaughter to occur. The film is incredibly well written, well acted and the scenes are frighteningly realistic. Don Cheadle is superb as the heroic hotel manager who more than rises to the occassion using his wits to keep his family and hundreds of others safe in the midst of chaos. He surely deserves great recognition for this role.
Rwanda is a lesson in how Governments and the media can selectively focus on problem areas in the world and also can selectively ignore others. For example most Americans now know differences between shiites and sunnis and kurds but how many know the differences between tsuties and hutus ? That fact that the hatred portrayed in this film is so irrational combined with the look the other way attitude of much of the west contibutes to an astoundingly shameful episode of recent history. The film does much to illuminate and educate.
Every now and then a movie comes along whose subject matter is so important that the art of the film is almost irrelevant.
The universally praised HOTEL RWANDA (MGM) is ordinary filmmaking about an extraordinary man. Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle) is the manager of an elite hotel who exhibits the highest, most noble of human traits when he bravely takes a stand against the barbaric, bloody savagery during the 1994 Hutu massacre of the Tutsi minority. Almost all the Tutsis were eventually slaughtered (by machete).
When his country descends into chaos, Rusesabagina first wants to save his family, assuming the world will intervene. When that doesn't happen, he opens his hotel to over a thousand refugees. When a crazed militia storms the gates of the Hotel compound, the stakes are substantially raised for his, his family's and "guests" safety.
Cheadle is magnificent as the clever, calm, quick thinking, heroic but never larger-than-life Rusesabagina. Sophie Okoneda and Nick Nolte co-star in this unforgettable film. Don't miss this rare true story about an honorable man trapped in a living nightmare of raging humanity at its most abhorrent, brutal, irrational and bestial level.
If you are reluctant to see this excellent film, fearing graphic depiction of the bloody events, fear not; almost all of it is off screen. Superior extras include "Return to Rwanda" and a commentary with the real life Paul Rusesabagina
If this film had been released at any other time in our history, it would still be a powerful, inspiring film. That it was released while we are spending billions upon billions of dollars killing people to instill democracy in Iraq makes it all the more significant. Yes, I realize that the Rwanda situation occurred during the Clinton administration, so I'm not blaming Bush for this catastrophe. That would be ridiculous. But I *am* blaming the West for turning their back on a country in desperate need. The horrible truth is that the West - in general - simply doesn't care about Africa, which is a point bluntly made in the film by Nick Nolte's character. He said something along the lines of: "You just don't matter. You're black."
This movie isn't the story of the Rwanda genocide. At times, I found myself wishing, perhaps out of morbid curiosity that it was. I'm glad, however, that we saw very limited instances of the massacres because, frankly, in today's age of television being everywhere, I've seen enough real life bombings to last a lifetime.
This movie instead is the story of a man who is a manager of a four star Belgian hotel, who was at first hesitant to become involved in the political upheaval surrounding him. Instead, he turned the four star hotel that he ran into a refugee camp of those fleeing the Hutus, though he himself was a Hutu and could have avoided the trouble simply by claiming his Hutu heritage and leaving the confines of the hotel. But his wife was Tutsi, so of course he could not leave her.
Don Cheadle, who plays Paul Rusesabagina, does a miraculous job. He is perfectly contrite as a good hotel manager should be, his emotions well contained, and his accents perfect. The genocide comes as a surprise to him, for he seems to believe (in the film at least) in the general goodness of man; that the warnings heard on the radio that the Hutus will be killing Tutsi's like flies are not to be taken seriously.
One of the most interesting moments in the film came when a reporter, played by Joaquin Phoenix asked two women: how can you tell the difference between a Hutu and a Tutsi? They explained that Hutus generally had wider noses, and mentioned some other "structural" differences. He asked the two girls what they were. One was Hutu, the other Tutsi. He expressed surprise, as did I, for I thought the two could have been sisters. It's a very pointed commentary on the ridiculousness of the bloodbath that occurred. People were divided by how they looked - and in some cases, you couldn't tell the difference at all.
Bring that back home to America...we're still having some of those same problems in our country. Thankfully, those problems aren't likely to break out into genocide, although they do cause some rather ugly turf wars. But there is a mirror here that reflects those exact problems that led to genocide - we are not immune.
This movie was uplifting, wonderfully acted, and deeply touching. It also enraged me, and as I left the theater I commented to my friend that I was embarrassed to be from the West.
I disagree with one reviewer that it would be an embarassment to give Oscar nods to Million Dollar Baby, Ray, or others over this film. There are many worthy contenders this year. Don Cheadle certainly deserves consideration for Best Actor, but can we honestly say that his performance was more moving and emotive than Jamie Foxx's? Anyway - my only point is that this movie is just as worthy of Oscar consideration as many other films released this year. It will be an Oscar's ceremony that I will be interested to watch.
on January 9, 2005
Just several hours ago I watched this movie in the only theater within my my area that is actually showing it, and I now feel compelled to write my first review for Amazon.com. This is one of the most powerful movies I have ever watched, and it has evoked a wide range of emotions within me: shame for the West's apathy towards the Rwandan Genocide, disgust for the heartless murders that took place, and admiration for those who had the courage to actually try and make a differance rather than just wash their hands of the affair through hollow words and shallow sentiments.
Hotel Rwanda has been called "The African Schindler's List", due to the seeming ability of one man--a Hutu hotel manager--to save the lives of over 1200 Tutsi refugees. The parallels are of course salient, but in a sense the fact this occurred only ten years ago injects the element of shame and pertinency into the movie for *our* generation.
Don Cheadle does an excellent job playing Paul Rusesabagina, the hotel manager. His authentic delivery and emotion throughout the film are incredible, and frankly I believe he deserves the oscar, even though Jamie Foxx himself was outstanding in Ray. The supporting cast all do an admirable job as well, and one of the delights of this film was that the second half is an almost a completely African one, save for Nick Nolte and the faceless UN soldiers. I would highly encourage anyone curious about this film to see it. We all have been exorted to never forget the Holocaust, and to pay our homage through the various films, books, and museums that have made their way into the collective consciousness thanks to the media. Like the Holocaust, we should never forget this; indeed we have a duty not to forget and to make sure it remains in our memory because we, as "The West", had the power to make sure the words "Never Again" rang true, and unfortunately we failed.
One wonders at times whether or not the destiny of Africa is to suffer. It's sad to note the plight of this region and of Africa as whole since the Rwandan genocide. The neighboring country of the Congo has suffered 3-4 million dead in a horrific yet almost wholly ignored civil war (with Rwandan participation) while Sudan's Darfur crisis has once again tested Western and UN resolve. When will "Never Again" mean Never Again?
on March 25, 2005
Don Cheadle's performace is amazing in this movie, as is Sophie Okonedo's. What stood out for me in this was their characters' incredible love for each other. While madness ensued, and they were fighting to survive, their family remained most important to them. Their love brought me to tears in the theater, and I'm generally not sentimental.
Jamie Foxx gave a great performance in RAY, but I truly think Cheadle deserved the Oscar. His work in the movie wasn't as showy as Foxx's, but it was so much more powerful.
on December 29, 2004
This movie is based on the true story of Paul Rusesabagina (played by Don Cheadle), a hotel manager of a luxury hotel who was directly responsible for saving over 1,200 lives during the genocide in Rwanda in 1994.
Rusesabagina uses his connections to keep these people alive, and tries to get help for them. The movie is very touching, and it saddens me that the real Rusesabagina is not better recognized for his courage.
I highly recommend this movie to all. I expect that it will be receiving a number of awards because the acting is phenomenal. The events that took place in Rwanda were gripping and tragic, but Rusesabagina's story is simply awesome.
on February 27, 2005
This movie is a testament to the power of film to relate the agonies of the human condition and to touch us with them. It tells a gripping story that is both powerful and true. You end up thinking deeply about the value of human life and the impact of human action (and inaction). If I was in Paul Rusesabagina's shoes would I have had the heart to do what he did? As much as I wish the answer is `yes', I have to wonder, would I have been tempted to join the foreign nationals and left perhaps with an unmistakable expression of angst, sorrow and helplessness on my face?
This movie has often been compared to Schindler's list and it is not difficult to see why. Both tell the stories of affluent businesspeople in desperate times who were able to pull strings to help people in need. Both involved people reaching across cultural divisions and paying a price for it. The main difference lies in the awareness of what occurred. We are well aware of the holocaust of World War II because it is well documented in literature and it continues to haunt our moral conscience. The monstrousness of the Rwandan fiasco does not seem to have sunk in yet into our collective sympathies and this is for various reasons some of which the movie prompts you to think about.
Don Cheadle did an amazing job portraying Paul Rusesabagina's character. The movie was very well done from a director's standpoint. With a movie covering a catastrophe of this scope it's easy to think of how much more could have been crammed into the movie but by focusing on one person's struggles it gives us an orientation and a perspective. We can now begin to contemplate how bad it was, and to think that it was many times worse for a lot more people is painful to even ponder about.
The core message of this movie is badly needed since we were not vocal enough when the genocide was taking place and we are not vocal enough now that other atrocities are occurring. Watch this movie, you will not just cry, laugh, become awestruck and get educated --you will also emerge a better person. Moreover, please recommend it to your friends and help them become better people.
One of the most intensive killing campaigns in human history was conducted in the tiny Central African country of Rwanda in 1994. The brutal ethnic conflict between the Tutsis and the Hutus, which exploded into mass murder that year, have origins which go back to Belgium's colonial rule, where the minority Tutsis were favored, thus exacerbating differences between the two tribes.
In April 1994, the plane carrying Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana was shot down. This event was the last straw which, after years of strife, triggered the tragic and brutal genocide. Extremist Hutu militia, aided by the Rwandan army, launched systematic massacres against Tutsis almost immediately after the plane crash. Despite reports of mass killings, most of the world turned a blind eye to the people of Rwanda. The UN failed to take immediate action to stop the bloody genocide, due to opposition from France and the US. Militiamen broke into supposedly sacrosanct Red Cross ambulances and hospitals searching for victims. Around 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed within 100 days, and over three million people fled to neighboring countries.
Terry George's "Hotel Rwanda" is a gritty, realistic depiction of this terrible tragedy. The storyline is based on the true life activities of a single, man whose goal was to save as many people as humanly possible. Don Cheadle plays Paul Rusesabagina, a Rwandan who formerly managed the Milles Collines, a Belgian-owned luxury hotel in the capital city of Kigali. When Hutu extremists begin to slaughter members of the minority Tutsi tribe, Rusesabagina returns to the hotel and does everything in his power to save his family, friends, then orphans, and ultimately strangers. He uses the 4 Star facility as a refuge for as many as the walls will hold, and then some. The film follows Rusesabagina, through his real life drama, as he wheels, deals, finagles and barters for seemingly every single human life he touches. A Huti married to a Tutsi, Paul qualifies as a target for both factions. His story is that of an ordinary man who rises-up, courageously, to defy death in the name of his fellow man. "Paul Rusesabagina saved the lives of 1,268 Africans by standing with them at Hotel Rwanda."
The almost nonstop fear, suspense and sense of anxiety which permeate this film are due, in part, to Mr. Cheadle's extraordinarily believable performance, and in part, because Director George so clearly conveys here the chilling reality of recent history. George, who co-wrote the script with Keir Pearson, was assisted in his work by the actual Paul Rusesabagina and by eye witnesses to the events.
The supporting cast is excellent and features: Sophie Okonedo, who gives an outstanding performance as Tatiana, Rusesabagina's wife; Joaquin Phoenix as Jack, an American news reporter; and Nick Nolte as the indefatigable UN Colonel Oliver, who tries against all odds to keep the peace.
Man's wont to commit genocide, in the 20th century alone, makes a somber, shameful statement about the human race. Watching "Hotel Rwanda" does take an emotional toll. It is a powerful, disturbing, educationally eye-opening experience. There are some extremely unsettling images, as when Rusesabagina and a co-worker get out of their vehicle on a foggy morning, just after dawn, to inspect the road for obstructions. They find it littered with corpses, as far as the eye can see. I found myself sobbing more than once. Do not let this deter you, however. This is a brilliant movie with some incredibly uplifting and inspiring moments. "Hotel Rwanda" is a must see film about a period in recent history when most of us were too busy going about our lives to pay much attention to what was going on a small world away.