The genocide that occurred in Rwanda in 1994 while the rest of the world
turned its head away is a story that needs to be told. Instead of employing
a straight documentary style, which would consist of interviews of survivors,
government and U.N. officials and visits to mass graves, writer Terry George
opts for a dramatized recreation of the events.
With a sharp eye for casting, he puts a charming, straight-ahead Don Cheadle
in the central role as Paul Rusesabagina, the manager of the posh Hotel Mille
Collines that remains, for a time, off limits to the rising hatred between
the two tribes of the country. But, as things deteriorate and the roads
become carpetted with bodies of dead Tutsus, his job is to maintain the
sanctity of the hotel and safety of his "guests," as they transition from
wealthy Europeans to local survivors. He uses every ploy and bribe at his
disposal to buy lives and supplies until the money in the safe is gone.
Working closely with the commander of the U.N. forces (Nick Nolte), in
contact with the hotel's owner (Jean Reno) and local warlords, he hides
desperation behind a facade of cool intellect, charm and resourceful
judgement while balancing the dangers to his beloved wife Tatiana (lovely
Sophie Okonedo) and children against all the rest whose lives hang in the
balance. Ultimately, the refugees dependent on this Hutu man's protection
Cheadle's portrayal of a steady hand in a vortex of hate and human decimation
is an admirable model for courage and leadership. He is resolute and
consistent as a skilled negotiator and businessman with a decency that is
soul deep. All his cunning and containment, qualities once applied to the
vagaries of running a multi-star hotel for the rich in a backwater holiday
destination are turned with similar competence to matters of instant life or
death. The portrayal conveys the despair of the circumstances while
providing a rallying point of objective-subjective perspective.
While "Hotel Rwanda" dramatically exposes the tide of evil power that
overtook this country, the central figure of Paul Rusesabagina being so
essentially successful in dealing with his corrupt faction leaders and
keeping his hotel so bloodless and undamaged suggests a cleanup of what the
real situation must have been like. There is a line of horror the film
doesn't cross, so as to preserve a product consumable by moviegoers. We
don't, after all, need to see someone's head chopped off to get the idea.
Sterilized though it may be, this may well be the ideal conveyance for some
understanding of what it meant to those who suffered such atrocities there
and of the shame the world should feel for standing by while it happened.
~~ Jules Brenner