out of Five
Running time: 100
Impressively directed, with deservedly Oscar-nominated performances from Don Cheadle and Sophie Okonedo, this is a gripping drama that is both moving and shame-inducing.
If you're wondering why you haven't seen any reviews of Hotel Rwanda in this month's crop of movie magazines, it's because its high profile Oscar nominations have secured it a rush release in time for the ceremony on the 27th of February (at least for Londoners - it opens nationwide the following week).
It didn't even have a UK distributor until early February, so, in a very real sense, film fans have the Oscars to thank for the fact that we're seeing it so soon. A good thing too, as it could well be one of the best films of the year.
Hotel Owner Shelters Refugees From Genocide
Directed and co-written by Terry George (a frequent collaborator of director Jim Sheridan), Hotel Rwanda tells the true story of Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle), a hotel manager in Rwanda who used every ounce of diplomacy and shrewdness at his disposal in order to shelter over a thousand refugees from certain death during the Tutsi / Hutu massacres in 1994.
Fittingly, he does this by being an exceptional hotel manager, knowing exactly who to bribe and who to coerce in order to survive. Essentially, then, the film is a modern day Schindler's List, although there's an uncomfortable political element because the West basically ignored Rwanda's cries for help, despite the slaughter of over a million people.
Don Cheadle's performance is nothing short of terrific - his Oscar nomination is thoroughly deserved. Cheadle has always been a talented, watchable actor in supporting roles, so it's a delight to see him get a lead part this good - he's both charismatic and convincing and his accent is so perfect that it'll convince you his piss-poor Cockney accent in Ocean's 11 really WAS just an elaborate joke after all.
The supporting cast are equally good, particularly British actress Sophie Okonedo (also Oscar nominated) as Paul's Tutsi wife Tatiana, but also Nick Nolte as the sympathetic UN colonel whose warnings go unheeded by the West. Also notable are Cara Seymour as a Red Cross worker and, in smaller roles, Joaquin Phoenix (complete with Dodgy Beard) as a media cameraman and Jean Reno as a Belgian businessman.
Refusal To Sensationalise Violence
It would have been a simple matter to resort to blood-soaked Oliver Stone-style visuals, but George wisely refuses to sensationalise the brutal violence, instead sticking to long shots and the suggestion of offscreen atrocities, using sound effects and reaction shots, not to mention the early establishment of a huge shipment of machetes.
There are several powerful scenes in the film, a few of which are guaranteed to leave you with something in your eye. Above all, the film leaves you with both a profound sense of admiration for an ordinary man's heroism and a mixture of shame and anger for the West's refusal to get involved in the conflict.
In short, Hotel Rwanda is a compelling drama with strong performances and an important story to tell. Highly recommended.