Dapper, meticulous and obsequious, Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle) is perfectly suited to his job as hotel manager of the elegant Hotel Mille Collines in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. Impressed with fine Scotches and adept at flattering his European guests, he would not seem a likely candidate for heroism. Yet in 1994, in the midst of one of the most horrific genocides in history, in which close to a million people were slaughtered in a 100-day reign of terror, this brave Rwandan used all the tricks in his book to save more than 1,200 Tutsi and moderate Hutu refugees from the machetes, rifles and clubs of Hutu militias, sheltering them in his hotel while vainly hoping that the Western powers would intervene to end the killing.
"Hotel Rwanda," like "Schindler's List," chooses to illuminate a historical nightmare by focusing on a true story of hope. There are those who will object in principle to George's focus on the inspirational, but let's get real: how else could this movie have gotten made? And it's a remarkable, gut-wrenching tale that has far more on its mind than saluting one man's bravery.
The importance of the story "Hotel Rwanda" has to tell shouldn't put it above criticism--the exposition is sometimes clumsy; George's filmmaking has its unnecessarily sentimental moments; Nick Nolte is miscast as the Canadian general in charge of the ineffectual United Nations troops; and the script simplifies a complex tribal and colonial history. Yet, ultimately, one's reservations are overwhelmed by the story's urgency. It's impossible not to be shattered, or haunted by its images: a Jeep driving through the fog bogs down in the mud--except when Paul gets out to investigate, he sees that it's not mud but a sea of corpses.
Two performances carry the film. Cheadle, in his richest role since "Devil in a Blue Dress," burrows deep inside this complex man, who discovers in himself a strength he never knew he possessed as he faces the disillusion of all the "civilized" notions he believes in. Neither Cheadle nor the film makes the mistake of deifying Rusesabagina--he's a pragmatic man, who finds his heroism step by step. As his strong, committed wife, Tatiana, Sophie Okonedo, barely resembling the saucy hooker she played in "Dirty Pretty Things," is a revelation. The tragedy of the Rwandan genocide is reflected in the fact that this wrenching report comes to us 10 years after the fact. Ten years from now, will we be watching a stirring, heartfelt movie about how we failed to stop the slaughter in Sudan?