Dapper, meticulous and obsequious, Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle) is perfectly suited to his job as manager of the elegant Hotel Mille Collines in Kigali, the capital city 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 a horrific genocide, 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 refugees from the machetes, rifles and clubs of their Hutu enemies, sheltering them in his hotel while vainly hoping that the Western powers would intervene to end the killing.

Terry George's "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. The importance of the story "Hotel Rwanda" has to tell shouldn't put it above criticism--the exposition can be clumsy; Nick Nolte is miscast as the Canadian general in charge of the ineffectual U.N. troops, and, by turning the Hutus into the villains and the Tutsis into the good guys, the script simplifies a complex history in which the roles of oppressor and oppressed were once reversed. Yet, ultimately, one's reservations are overwhelmed by the story's urgency; it's impossible not to be shattered.

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 disillusionment of all the "civilized" notions he believes in. 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 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?