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Hotel Rwanda (2004)

When the world closed its eyes, he opened his arms.

Directed by:

Terry George

Rating: 9/10

Running Time: 121 minutes

US Certificate: PG-13 UK Certificate: 12a

“If people see this footage, they’ll go: ‘Oh my God! That’s horrible!’ and then go on eating their dinner.” That line, spoken by Joaquin Phoenix’s journalist character in ‘Hotel Rwanda’, may well be true of the world’s reaction to the attempted genocide which occurred in the small Central African nation during the mid-90s – but this is a film that hopes to succeed where such news footage failed, if not by sparking the public into action, then at least by making a lasting impression.

The film stars Don Cheadle as Paul Rusesabagina, the unassuming but intelligent hotel manager whose premises – unwittingly at first – became a five-star refugee camp for Tutsis on the run from Hutu atrocities. Following the assassination of Rwanda’s Hutu President, a long history of tension between the two peoples turned into all-out war, with anti-Tutsi propaganda clogging up the airwaves and encouraging Hutu extremists to take to the streets and wipe out the Tutsi race.

Paul himself is a Hutu, but his wife Tatiana (played with real strength by Sophie Okonedo) is a Tutsi. The pair also have children and, while Paul’s only concern at first is to protect his family, it’s not long before over 1000 others are looking to him for help.

This remarkable film, based on a true story (Paul is a real man, not some fictional folk hero, and is nowadays looked upon as Rwanda’s answer to Oskar Schindler) is in equal parts engrossing and emotionally draining. At times it seems not so much an attempt to educate, as an expression of sheer exasperation at the way human beings continue to ignore the lessons of history.

Its gut-wrenching effectiveness is partly down to the writing and direction of Terry George, but arguably even more so it’s due to the incredible, career-defining performance from lead-man Cheadle. Watching this, I couldn’t help but wonder where he has been hiding such amazing acting ability for all of these years. Is this really the same bloke who murders the Cockney accent in those rubbish ‘Ocean’s’ movies, or delivers that phoned-in performance in the instantly-forgettable ‘After the Sunset’? Not only is Cheadle deserving of multiple awards for his display in this one, but so is the guy who suggested to him that he might want to actually try acting WELL.

For this reviewer’s money, ‘Hotel Rwanda’ is the best film of 2004. Sure, it has its weaknesses – including a typically-mumbled delivery from Nick Nolte’s U.N. peace-keeper (he needs to speak to that geezer who’s been advising Mr Cheadle) and the occasional very slight dip into schmaltz. But it would be wrong of me not to give every inch of due credit to a film which manages that sadly all-too-rare feat of taking an important issue and turning it into a credible and striking movie project. Everyone should make a point of seeing this film.

It's Got: An uncredited appearance from Jean Reno as a man whose telephone is connected to all the right places.

It Needs: To be given some serious thought by all who see it.


Schindler's List, The Pianist


Don Cheadle is a revelation in this heart-breaking look at how one man became a hero in the face of mankind at its most cold and destructive.

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