manager is driven through the early morning mist by one of his employees,
until the terrain which their vehicle speeds over becomes clunky. At first,
they think they’ve hit a bumpy patch of dirt and continue on, but the car
continues to joggle as they accelerate. They stop the car and the hotel
manager, Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle), steps out to see if his employee
has driven them off of the road. He has not. Instead, the two have been
running over dozens of dead bodies, which now lay at Paul’s feet.
The two men have just come back from buying food
at a warehouse, for those staying at their hotel, called The Mille Collines.
The year is 1994, and the setting is Kigali, the capital city of a war-torn
Rwanda. It was then and there that nearly one-million members of the Tutsi
tribe were slaughtered by the Hutu tribe, in a plan of mass genocide. Most
of the governments and media of the world didn’t see fit to expose to the
story to the public. Hotel Rwanda is based on true events,
chronicling Rusenbagina’s bravery in saving 1,200 lives, by setting up what
was basically a mini-refuge-camp in his hotel. He was a Hutu, but, with his
open mind that was unaffected by radicalism, he saw the violent lines
between the two tribes and, more importantly, their senselessness.
For much of the movie, Colonel Oliver (Nick Nolte)
of the United Nations sees that the hotel is not raided by the Hutu militia,
but when his organization’s peace-keeping is deemed ineffective, Paul and
his tenants’ protection is not guaranteed. Hotel Rwanda is not so
much about the mass genocide that occurred, on the whole, as it is about how
much good one man could do by simply being resourceful, at a desperate time
in which the rest of the world did nothing to help his cause.
In contemporary cinema, few movies are as wise or
as observant of society as Hotel Rwanda, which takes the time to
weave insight about the current world into its already strong narrative arc.
The standard good film, nowadays, will have a few references to politics and
society, but they are rarely as meaningful as those in Hotel Rwanda.
The movie takes the heartbreak of a story and uses it to make viewers
realize the parallels it draws. Not many of us in The United States know
much, if anything, about the Rwandan Genocide of 1994 (at least those who
haven’t seen this picture), and that makes the historical event all the more
tragic. When viewers leave Hotel Rwanda, they will not only have a
strong emotional reaction towards its moving conclusion, but will also be
considering every subject it opens for discussion, such as the worthiness
(or lack thereof) of the United Nations’ involvement in world affairs and
the biases of the media and their very questionable motivations in choosing
which stories to publish.
Don Cheadle is a revelation in Hotel Rwanda;
he is not only the movie’s greatest asset, but also turns in the best
performance of any leading actor, this year. Cheadle allows the audience to
feel as though they are in Paul’s shoes, during every waking minute of the
film’s duration. Our emotions are worn on his sleeve; we feel
exactly the way he does about each event that occurs in the plot and, as a
result, we develop a real sympathy for him. Hotel Rwanda speaks of
tragic events, but it still would not be the devastating movie that it is
without the tight connection the audience has with the protagonist. Cheadle
is entirely responsible for this. Paul’s moments of inner-turmoil were
physically rough for me to watch. I admittedly and proudly wept when he
believed his family, comprised of his Tutsi wife and children of her blood,
had died in a rebel strike, as they attempted to leave the Rwandan state.
His own battle with himself, at this point in the film, is entirely jarring
All the while, amidst the many horrors which
Hotel Rwanda chronicles, director George intermittently allows the film
to slow, providing time for the audience to reflect on the many
multi-layered ideas which are incorporated into its contents. It would seem
as though this would detract from Hotel Rwanda’s intensity, but the
technique does anything but. Reflecting on all of the chaos of the story is
often a more harrowing experience than watching its events unfold,
Hotel Rwanda does not contain much onscreen
violence, but it will provoke a much more visceral reaction from viewers
than even the most gruesome of films. All moviegoers realize that blood
spills out of humans when their flesh is sliced by a knife. George realized
this, in making the film, and came to the correct conclusion that it was
unnecessary to actually show such occurrences. Running over bodies in an
automobile while traveling through dawn’s haunting air is far more stirring
to watch than guts spurting onto the earth. Hotel Rwanda’s thematic
and narrative resonance drive it through hardship and guide it to triumph.
The physical brutalities of the story are simply implied. As a whole, the
film is a masterpiece which never preaches, but, rather, shares its
observations about a diverse variety of the world’s social complexities, and
uses them to mold an effective statement. I will remember Hotel Rwanda—and
the catastrophe it educated me of—for the rest of my life.
-Danny, Bucket Reviews
(Posted in 12.28.2004-2.5.2005 Update)