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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

Hotel Rwanda

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Judy Thorburn

Hotel Rwanda

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CHEADLE POWERFUL IN GRIPPING “HOTEL RWANDA”

There are many reasons we go to the movies.  For one thing, it is a major source of escapism offered in the form of comedy, action packed adventure, fantasy or drama.  But, films can also be educational and informative telling a real life story that is eye opening and cause for thought.  Films that inspire by sending an important message taken from true-life actual accounts can create a positive influence on human behavior.  If audiences can be touched and transformed by something witnessed on screen then there is no better movie experience than that.

The true story of Paul Rusesabagina is one such film that will, no doubt, make an impact as a result of anyone seeing his courageous and heroic stand.  Like Oskar Schindler who saved thousands of Jews from Nazi execution in World War II Germany, Rwandan Rusesabegina set another example for what it means to be our brothers’ keeper.

Hotel Rwanda tells the fact based account of what happened during the 1994 uprising of the extremist Hutu militia who attempted to annihilate the entire Tutsi population of their country.  The entire region was ripe with ethnic conflict for years as a result of Belgian rule that favored the Tutsis, thought to be more elegant looking and superior to the Hutu majority. When the President is assassinated after newly signing a peace accord between the warring tribes, The Hutu army of extremists takes up arms seeking revenge on their native brothers who they see as “cockroaches” to be wiped out.

Paul Rusesabegina became a hero at this time and place by sheltering over 1200 men, women and children from impending slaughter. As manager of the posh, Belgian owned, four star Hotel Des Mille Collins in the capital of Kigali, he was clever and resourceful in implementing his valuable skills and experience catering to the demands of his guests as well as important business and political connections.   Paul knew that accommodating diplomats or other strong contacts was necessary if ever a favor was needed in return.  When it came to it, he had to resort to favors stored up as well as bribing the Hutu military hungry for blood with alcohol, money or jewelry from his vault

Don Cheadle is magnificent in his Oscar-calibre portrayal of Rusesabagina. This is a man who always tries to keep his style, focus and composure while an insane massacre is happening all around him.  What starts as seeing soldiers in the streets escalate to neighbors being killed, homes destroyed by fire and ultimately a holocaust that resulted in the deaths of a million innocent people.  Cheadle is brilliantly restrained, shifting from denial to realization as a result of the nightmare turn of events.

As a much admired Hutu happily married to a Tutsi named Tatiana (fabulous Sophie Okenedo), with children, their safety was at risk as well as the neighbors, and young orphans brought to him by the compassionate Red Cross worker, Pat Archer (Cara Seymour). But, as much as this story focuses on one man’s bravery it also delves into his personal life that we see is filled with love for his family and compassion for his fellow humans.  While the entire world stood by doing nothing to stop the genocide, he took it upon himself to do whatever he could to save as many lives by offering them sanctuary.

The supporting cast is excellent including Nick Nolte as Colonel Oliver, a UN Peacekeeper with his hands tied having given orders not to intervene. He feels frustrated informing Paul that his troops are there as peacekeepers, NOT peacemakers and that the West will do nothing to stop the slaughter because they don’t care.  Yet, the UN force does take action in evacuating all the white visitors while abandoning the blacks, except for some Tutsis who were able to obtain visas with help from family members outside of the country.

Juaquin Phoenix has a small but striking presence as Jack, a media reporter who took shocking video showing the bloodied acts of genocide that would be broadcast all over the world. Unfortunately, he knew that people would watch it on TV, say “that’s terrible, and go on eating their dinners”.

Writer/director Terry George takes the audience down a rode that is hard hitting, but nevertheless a value lesson for humanity that apparently needs to be driven home repeatedly from one generation to the next. What could have been a story overwrought with violence and bloodshed is told with enough graphic visuals to be realistic without being gratuitous.  The message is nonetheless clear.

To say that this is a heart wrenching and gripping true story is an understatement. Powerfully conveyed, Hotel Rwanda is one of the best films of the year (released in 2004).  It is said, “Peace begins with you and me”.  Know that, and there would never be war. We need more people like Paul Rusesabagina in the world.  That’s the key to Hotel Rwanda.