Saturday, January 22, 2005

Hotel Rwanda

Hotel Rwanda is a devastating film, a riveting and horrifying account of an atrocity to which the world turned a blind eye. The picture is well-written by Keir Pearson and Terry George and effectively directed by Mr. George, and it's superbly acted, by Don Cheadle, Sophie Okonedo, Nick Nolte, Fana Okoena and others.
Cheadle stars as Paul Rusesabagina, manager of the Milles Colones, a popular, five-star tourist hotel in Kalinga, who becomes a savior when long-standing tensions between the country's Hutu and Tutsi populations erupt into civil war. Paul, a dark-skinned Hutu, is married to a light-skinned Tutsi, played by Ms. Okonedo. Before the war breaks out, he insists to his family that all will be okay under a UN-brokered truce, but he collects favors to be called in if his family becomes endangered. But when the troubles start, his friends and neighbors flock to his home, refugees begin pouring into the hotel even as the European guests are being ushered out, and Paul finds himself using all of his bargaining and negotiating skills to save as many lives as he can manage.
The predominant image I carried away from the film was Cheadle's dark, worried face, his brow furrowed, his black eyes tight and darting about as he tries desperately to determine his next move. Cheadle's performance is a career-defining one, and I think he deserves an Oscar for it.
The huge accomplishment of this motion picture is to bring into sharp focus a tragedy that was for most Americans, I suspect, too distant and poorly understood to matter. George, Pearson and Cheadle make us see the devastation through the eyes of a privileged man and family whose sense of security is suddenly shattered.
I think it ranks up with Schindler's List and The Pianist as one of the most important documents on the devastation of war to be released in the last 20 years.