Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Terry George
Stars: Don Cheadle, Sophie Okonedo, Nick Nolte, Joaquin Phoenix
Irish writer/director Terry George (Some Mothers’ Sons, etc) is a film maker with a conscience and is not afraid of courting controversy. His latest film is a powerful and potent drama set against the background of one of the bloodiest episodes of recent African history – the Rwandan genocide of the mid-’90’s, an incident that garnered very little interest in the western media at the time.
Following the assassination of the country’s President in 1994, the ruling Hutu party embarked on a systematic campaign to eliminate the Tutsi’s, resulting in the brutal deaths of nearly 1,000,000 people in the course of some 100 days. The UN (represented here by a suitably world-weary and blunt Nick Nolte) was impotent to act, and the West refused to get involved – it was just a case of “blacks killing blacks”, and besides, Rwanda was poor and lacking in mineral wealth and resources. Thousands of refugees, from either side of the political divide, poured into the luxurious Belgian owned hotel the Mille Collines, seeking sanctuary from the carnage in the streets.
Hotel manager Paul Rusesbagina (Don Cheadle), who had built up strong connections with his European clientele, found himself walking a nerve wracking tightrope as he tried to keep the frightened natives safe. He negotiated with the UN, the murderous terrorists and a blatantly corrupt general who only acted after being paid a sufficient bribe, all the while trying to cater for the needs of the refugees.
Cheadle is an often underused actor who has been criminally wasted in fluff like the recent After The Sunset and Ocean’s Eleven and its banal sequel, but here he shines. Cheadle grounds this film and delivers the performance of his career as he portrays Ruseseabagina’s desperation, conflicting emotions and sheer horror at the violence tearing his country apart. Sophie Okenedo also delivers a wonderful and deeply affecting performance as his wife Tatiana. Joaquin Phoenix contributes a small role as a cocky American news cameraman who becomes shaken by what he witnesses and his inability to do anything about it.
Hotel Rwanda is an excellent film and a powerfully political condemnation of the West’s refusal to act. George shies away from graphic depictions of violence, but the implicit bloodshed that happens off the screen is just as effective and unsettling. There are some harrowing and grim moments throughout, but the film is also leavened with some early doses of humour and its overriding sense of compassion.