Starring: Don Cheadle and Sophie Okonedo
Studio: United Artists/Lions Gate Entertainment
Video: Widescreen enhanced for 16:9
Audio: DD 5.1, Dolby Surround
Subtitles: English, French, and Spanish
Extras: “A Message for Peace: Making Hotel Rwanda” Documentary; Return
to Rwanda documentary; Selected Scenes commentary by Don Cheadle; Audio
commentary by Director Terry George and real-life subject of the film,
Paul Rusesabagina, with select commentary by musician Wyclef Jean
Length: Two hours, two minutes
A dedicated businessman, husband and father to his four children,
Rwandan resident Paul Rusesabagina took extraordinary measures to save
lives during a horrible period of war and savagery in his home country.
During this period of massive genocide just eleven years ago this
month, which left hundreds of thousands of Rwandan people dead,
Rusesabagina saved both his family and over 1200 refugees from certain
death, harboring them in the five star hotel where he worked as an
assistant manager. Hotel Rwanda, a disturbing yet poignant film by
Terry George, tells his story.
In the lead role, character actor Don Cheadle caputures this courageous
businessman with the right mixture of poise and humility. Rusesabagina
(Cheadle) begins the film happy to appease his upper-class clientele,
including prominent Rwandan military figures and UN peace keeping
forces. He serves his hotel guests fine Scotch whiskey, imported Cuban
cigars, and chilled German beer in order to create an environment of
luxury and privilege. For a while, the relationship benefits him;
Rusesabagina’s job affords him a middle class existence with a nice
home, car, and comfortable life for his family.
The confident businessman is soon shaken, however, by an onslaught of
killings immediately around the hotel once the war begins. The Hutu
people, and their military leaders, whose every whim he once met,
engage in a horrific slaughter of the Tutsis. While the difference
between the two classes is minimal, the hate and prejudice which erupts
is substantial and tragic.
Confronted with a mounting military presence and increasing evil,
Rusesabagina (Cheadle) not only bargains with the brutal Hutu leaders
to save lives, he outsmarts them. However, such bravery and fortitude,
during all the madness of war, nearly breaks his spirit.
In many instances, Cheadle’s emotionally honest performance merits his
Best Actor Nominations he garnered at the Oscars and Golden Globes.
Amidst a moment of terror, as a hostile Hutu gunman is about to murder
his family and several other innocent Tutsi people, Cheadle calmly
persuades the man to stop, offering him money for each innocent life.
Later in the film, when alone and dressing for work in his fine shirt
and silk tie, Cheadle begins to break down and sob. The enormous loss
of life, the barbarism, and many brushes with death overwhelm him.
Cheadle’s acting, in both instances, is penetrating and real.
Fine performances by the supporting cast contribute to this
inspirational story. Sophie Okonedo brings warmth and grace to the role
of Paul’s wife, Tatiana. A gutsy woman, Tatiana (Okonedo) at various
times supports her husband’s valor and guides his moral thinking as
well. In fact, the script was rewritten in order to more prominently
feature the close relationship between the two, and rightly so.
Another highlight is Nick Nolte’s role as the frustrated UN Colonel
Oliver, who sympathizes with Paul and the plight of the Rwandan people.
A pivotal scene occurs between Nolte’s character and Paul (Cheadle),
when Paul believes the UN will intervene and halt the killings. Oliver
(Nolte) bluntly tells Paul that no intervention will happen, that the
lives of Rwandans, according to the West, are “dirt” and not worth
saving. Though difficult to watch, both actors convey a certain truth
of Western nation’s atttudes towards African people.
Much of the remaining cast of Rwandans-the Hutu General Paul once
befriended, and other employees of the hotel–were drawn from the city
of Johannesburg, South Africa, where the bulk of the film was shot–
and provide credibility to the film.
Extra features on the DVD further which explore the real-life saga of
Paul Rusesabagina are worth viewing. Screenwriter Keir Pearson, a
native of Portland, OR, (Wilson High School, ’85) discusses how he came
upon Paul’s story, as well as the extensive journey he took to research
the film. On the technical side, sharp picture and sound quality
accentuate an already moving movie.
Because Hotel Rwanda shines a light on a painful part of history, and
because the Rwandan people are given a voice, so eloquently expressed
by the acting of Cheadle, Okonedo, Nolte, and countless others, this is
a motion picture worth seeing.