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Hotel Rwanda
2004 - PG-13 - 121 Mins.
Director: Terry George
Producer: Terry George
Written By: Kier Pearson and Terry George
Starring: Don Cheadle, Sophie Okonedo, Nick Nolte, Joaquim Phoenix, Fana Mokoena
Review by: Jennie Kermode
Official Site: www.mgm.com/ua/hotelrwanda
   
Set amidst the genocide of 1994, 'Hotel Rwanda' recounts the true story of Paul Rusesabagina, a hotel manager who sheltered over a thousand Tutsi refugees from the Hutu militia. Independently produced and eschewing a Hollywood cast, this is at once a documentary-style take on a savage civil war and an intimate portrait of a family in crisis.

The challenges faced by a film of this sort are numerous. How does one show the horrors of such a conflict without quickly desensitising the audience? When there are so many issues to consider, how does one keep the central story in focus? And critically, how does one interest a Western audience in African problems? It is a credit to the intelligence of its producers that 'Hotel Rwanda' surmounts each of these obstacles and keeps viewers engaged even when they may want to turn away, even through the frustrations of a narrative which sees the refugees' hopes raised and dashed repeatedly. The film sticks closely to real events rather than presenting a trimmed-down, more elegant narrative, and this is, for the most part, a good thing: it presents a more realistic picture of war and of the emotional stresses which a constantly threatening environment creates.

The danger with a story of this type is that the enormity of background events will overwhelm the narrative. 'Hotel Rwanda' depends on assured performances from Don Cheadle as Rusesabagina and Sophie Okonedo as his wife. The script centres on their personal experiences as they retreat into and try to defend the hotel, only occasionally venturing outside the compound for direct encounters with the brutality in the streets. The brief glimpses we get of houses burning and bodies hacked apart with machetes are all the more powerful because of their scarcity, and the atmosphere of dread within the hotel is effectively presented. Rusesabagina, like 'Casablanca's' Rick Blaine, starts out as a cynical man with friends on all sides of the
developing political conflict, a man who makes his way in the world thanks to natural wit and charm, storing up favours and always ready with bribes.

His concerns are for his business and for the small group of people close to him, and it is only with reluctance that he allows himself to be drawn into the wider conflict. As he realises how little the Western world, with whose ambassadors he had considered himself an equal, cares about the plight of Africans, he experiences a political awakening. It is this
personal story which makes the film gripping in its own right, rather than simply attracting people to stare at it like a car crash. It is a powerful wake-up call to the West not because it illuminates atrocities but because it demonstrates that those affected by them are human beings with the same concerns as people anywhere else.

This human focus extends to the darker side of 'Hotel Rwanda's' story. Early on, it is explained that Tutsi and Hutu are not ancient tribal affiliations but artificial categories created by Belgian colonists who found it convenient to have one group rule the other. The ease with which many Hutus, living in mixed communities, are persuaded to turn around one day and massacre their neighbours, is apalling, and has a lot to say about human nature in a wider context. Factors like this make 'Hotel Rwanda' a film of immediate relevance to people everywhere. It is far from easy viewing, but it deserves a wide audience.
 
Movie Guru Rating
An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater.
  4 out of 5 stars

 
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