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December 2004

By Julian Roman
Hotel Rwanda

Distributor: United Artists
Director: Terry George
Producers: Terry George and A. Kitman Ho
Screenwriters: Keir Pearson & Terry George
Cinematographers: Robert Fraisse
Composer: Rupert Gregson-Williams
Cast: Don Cheadle, Sophie Okonedo, Nick Nolte, Joaquin Phoenix, Desmond Dube, Mothusi Magano

Screened at Loews Lincoln Square




With the exception of possibly The New York Times, no other paper covers the world with so much information. The first few pages of the Times will tell you what's happening in other parts of the world in terms of politics, war, and etc. In 1994, when genocide broke out during the civil war in Rwanda, most of the national papers covered it, but I don't think it affected people because we weren't there and I'm sure some people dismissed it as another crisis that usually happens outside of the United States. In the last few years, there have been glimpses of what genocide is in films such as last year's Tears of the Sun, which was directed by Antoine Fuqua. Although that film focused in another area, part of the plot showed you what genocide is. In speaking with Fuqua recently, I got the feeling that he really wanted to tell a different story and explore the genocide that happens in African countries, but that he didn't have full control of the picture. Terry George is a director that tells the heart of the story. With films like "In the Name of the Father" and "Some Mother's Sons", he can clearly write about the truth of the story without adding a Hollywood spin to it. When he heard the story of Paul Rusesabagina and the plight he and his family took to survive, he made the connections to get that story on film. In Don Cheadle, we see Paul and the struggles he faced. "Hotel Rwanda" is one of the most powerful films to come out this year. Don Cheadle has always been a good actor but with this film, he has raised his own bar to excellence. It's a film that should propel folks to pay attention to what's happening "outside of your box" and lend your support for freedom from tyranny.

When the film begins, we see Paul Rusesabagina (Cheadle) as the manager of the Hotel Milles Collines in Kigali. The staff and the patrons respect him for his services, as well as the General of the army, for whom Paul gives him special liquor in exchange for favors. Paul happens to be from the Huti tribe and his wife Tatiana is the Tuti tribe. In 1994, the Hutis took over the country and their first order of business was to "clean up" their land by eliminating the "cockroaches" (the Tutis). As first resistant, Paul starts hiding out Tutis in his hotel. When some of the staff, who happen to be Huti, wouldn't cooperate, Paul makes sure that he is put in charge of the hotel when the white owners vacate the premises. The relationship that Paul shares the General comes in handy when he has to bribe his way to get around town and look for other family members. With his wife and family by his side as well as over 1000 Tutis to protect, Paul risks everything to stay alive and not get killed himself.

There are more stories within the film, but the essence is that one man stood against all odds to protect many and that this is indeed a true story. The story of Paul Rusesabagina wouldn't be so emotional if it weren't for the efforts given by Terry George and an amazing performance by Don Cheadle. For most of his career, Cheadle has played good supporting roles and continues to do so, but in this film, he takes command and captures your attention every step of the way. There isn't a second where you weren't feeling the pain of what the people were going through. To see the thousands of people that were slaughtered is a tragedy. Keep in mind that this story and this man is one of many stories that we just don't pay attention to on a regular basis. What happened in Rwanda happened in other places as well but there aren't many films about the situation for the world to see. It's very easy to say that this is the black version of "Schindler's list", and if so, that's great. That film brought awareness in so many communities and I hope that this film does to. Sophie Okonedo, who plays Cheadle's wife in the film, gives a performance that rivals many other great supporting turns. This isn't just a token wife role. Her role is just as important because it shows what gave Paul the strength to do what he did. Nick Nolte and Joaquin Phoenix's part are relative small, but still crucial in demonstrating that they are will to lend their support in such an important story. "Hotel Rwanda" is clearly one of the most powerful and best of the year because of the magnitude of the story.