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It's hard not to think of Schindler's List when you see Hotel Rwanda. Both are true stories about one man's battle with a system that was intent on genocide that leads to saving thousands of lives. Both men, Oskar Schindler and Paul Rusesabagina were well connected with the people in power who were perpetrating the horrifying killings. It was those very connections that allowed both men to succeed by getting important people to answer their calls, by calling in favors and by making bribes. That is where the similarities end. Unlike Schindler, Rusesabagina is a devoted family man who had worked his way up to being manager of the Hotel Des Milles Collines in Kigali.
Hotel Rwanda tells the story of Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle) who harbored over a thousand people in his hotel during the Rwanda genocide. In 1994, when the Hutu started slaughtering the Tutsi, many people sought sanctuary in the hotel and after the europeans left and the UN failed to stop the killing, Rusesabagina was left in charge of the hotel and the refugees. His wife (Sophie Okonedo) and two children were also hiding in the hotel. Hotel Rwanda follows the events in Rwanda as seen from the hotel for several months until Tutsi rebels fought their way into Rwanda and stopped the killing. The story follows the true events pretty closely and Rusesabagina was a consultant on the film. As is usual for this kind of "true story", many of the characters are compilations of several real people. In particular, the character of the UN commander (Nick Nolte), the Red Cross worker (Cara Seymour) and the hotel worker who is an informer (Tony Kgoroge) are not real people. But most of what is portrayed, really happened.
Hotel Rwanda is a very good movie and certainly deserves its Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor (Cheadle) and Best Supporting Actress (Okonedo). Like Schindler's List, the subject matter is so compelling that even in a lesser film, it would have been worth watching. But the combination of this horrifying event with good film making has produced one of the best movies of 2004. Hotel Rwanda doesn't try to answer the question of why something like this could happen, but it shows very well how different people react when thrown into an unimaginable situation. This is Don Cheadle's breakout film. He has been around for quite a while doing good work in such diverse films as, Ocean's Eleven, Traffic, Boogie Nights, and The United States of Leland. But those were all supporting roles. In Hotel Rwanda, Cheadle is front and center in almost every scene. He is great and he carries the film with ease. The supporting cast, particularly, Okonedo are good too. Nolte is vintage Nolte as the UN commander and despite the Canadian flag on his uniform is definitely not playing the real-life UN commander, Romeo Dallaire. Joaquin Phoenix is good in a very small part as a cameraman covering the genocide. My favorite actor, Jean Reno has a nice little cameo as the president of Sabena which owns the hotel.
The director, Terry George, is new to directing but not to telling political stories. He is a native of Northern Ireland and spent time in in jail as a suspected member of the IRA. He wrote the screenplay for In the Name of the Father. He also wrote the screenplay for Hotel Rwanda, which is also nominated for Best Screenplay. George keeps Hotel Rwanda moving right along, building the tension as the situation gets worse and worse. Every time, it looks like help is on the way, the hopes of Rusesabagina and the others are dashed again and again. Obviously, in a movie about a million people being killed with machetes, there is some blood and gore but George does a good job of showing it to the audience without having it overwhelm the personal story he is trying to tell. Go see it.