Title: Hotel Rwanda
Genre: Biography, Drama, History
Play time: 2h 1min
Director: Terry George
Screenwriters: Keir Pearson, Terry George
Starring: Don Cheadle, Sophie Okonedo, Joaquin Phoenix
When faced with a problem, my immediate instinct is to get it out of my sight, turn my back on it, hope that someone else takes care of it so that by the time I return, it will be but a memory.
This is, of course, the laziest, most contemptible response imaginable, and I try to fight the impulse every day of my life. The people we think of as heroes are usually the ones who reject it out of hand; those we call cowards are the ones who live their lives by it.
Hotel Rwanda Synopsis
This reasoning can be semi-dangerous if it falls into the wrong hands, used to justify such imprudence’s as the Iraq War and other hawkish actions, but it can also amount to a stinging condemnations of the times when the world averts its gaze from a conflict it deems too hot to handle.
Hotel Rwanda, an intensely personal account of the genocide perpetrated by the Hutu militia on Tutsi refugees in 1994, milks that moral formulation for all its worth, lashing out at the world for its inaction, treating the United Nations with a distaste bordering on seething hatred. No doubt it simplifies matters for the sake of its point, and I wonder what writer-director Terry George’s position would be on current events, but it’s a powerful statement, eloquently made.
An Intense Experience
The film is an intense experience, written in a way that sneaks up on you. Its true-life protagonist, Paul Rusesabagina, begins as somewhat of a pompous ass, with Don Cheadle doing a self-conscious accent, and it’s fascinating how the screenplay imperceptibly turns him first into someone clever and admirable, and eventually a hero.
Early in the film, his mantra is “family is all that matters,” as he refuses to come to the aid of a neighbor in serious trouble; by the end, he will have refused an opportunity to escape with his family in favor of staying behind to save those remaining at his hotel-turned-refuge.
It’s a noble act, precisely of the sort that would tug at my heartstrings, and the movie plays it as iconic, too, with One Man doing what the rest of the world refuses. Though there is no jumping out of airplanes on snowboards, this is perhaps the consummate profile in courage — Rusesabagina is, of course, confused and terrified, yet his outward confidence never wavers, and he inspires everyone around him. Sometimes it even seems like he’s recycling lines from movies, only vaguely adapted to the situation: “We have a hotel to run,” he blurts out as an attempt to calm people down in the midst of a crisis.
Third Act in The Movie “Hotel Rwanda” (2004)
A harried Nick Nolte is a good foil for Cheadle as a helpless, overwhelmed UN general who tries his best to help. Joaquin Phoenix shows up in an unnecessary near-cameo as a young yet world-weary journalist who demands the taking of ridiculous risks to shock his viewers out of their tv dinner-induced stupor. The character is overzealously used as a vehicle to hammer the film’s point home; if we don’t glean that the world doesn’t care from the fact that it pulls all the white people out of Rwanda, Joaquin Phoenix is sure to remind us.
In the third act, George and his co-writer try to bring the story to a more personal level, and it doesn’t quite work. Perhaps because Hotel Rwanda does such an effective job of relating the conflict on a global scale, issuing an indictment against practically the entire world, the more intimate stakes of the last twenty minutes just don’t seem very high.
But Rusesabagina remains a vivid, remarkable character, and the screenplay crafts a hero without hero-mongering or phony tributeering. It’s an uncommonly strong movie.