Great Moral Value in Sobering "Hotel Rwanda"
- Thursday, February 24, 2005
Release Date: February 4, 2005 (wide release date)
Rating: PG-13 (on appeal for violence, disturbing images and brief strong language.)
Run Time: 121 min.
Director: Terry George
Actors: Don Cheadle, Sophie Okonedo, Nick Nolte, Joaquin Phoenix, Desmond Dube, David O’Hara, Tony Kgoroge
In “The Screwtape Letters,” C.S. Lewis said, “In peace we can make many ignore good and evil entirely; in danger, the issue is forced upon them in a guise to which even we cannot blind them. There is here a cruel dilemma before us. If we promoted justice and charity among men, we should be playing directly into the Enemy's hands; but if we guide them to the opposite behaviour, this sooner or later produces (for He permits it to produce) a war or a revolution, and the undisguisable issue of cowardice or courage awakes thousands of men from moral stupor.”
Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle) is a man who has been cruelly awakened. Like most people, he has trouble fathoming just how cruel man can be, but he discovers this when the president of Rwanda is assassinated, and marauding soldiers take to the streets at the maniacal urgings of Hutu Power Radio. Soon, the machete-wielding soldiers are killing every Tutsi in sight.
The conflict between the two groups goes back to the Belgian founding of Rwanda. Ignoring tribal boundaries, the Belgians divided the country into those with lighter skin, whose passports were stamped with the word “Tutsi,” and those with darker skin, who became “Hutu.” The Hutus were the servant class, and some were murdered by Tutsis. Now the Hutus are in control, and they intend to exterminate every “cockroach” they can find.
An adept businessman who was educated in Belgium, Rusesabagina manages the Belgian-owned Hotel des Milles Collines in Kigali, the Rwandan capital. Having cultivated the hotel’s reputation as a luxurious oasis, Rusesabagina knows how to solve problems, calm people down and take care of just about anything. These skills come in handy when the Hutus show up, requesting the guest list. At this point, Rusesabagina’s “guests” consist primarily of Tutsis who have come to the hotel seeking refuge. All of the Europeans have fled, thanks to a United Nations convoy that, under armed guard, only allowed whites to board the bus.
That’s about all the U.N. is doing, much to the frustration of Colonel Oliver (Nick Nolte), a French-Canadian who requests thousands of U.N. soldiers but gets only 270 – for the entire country. Not only that, but forbidden by international treaty to ever fire their weapons, Oliver’s men must stand by as the killing continues, unabated. He says, rather ruefully, “We’re peacekeepers. Not peacemakers.”
Rusesabagina uses expensive cigars, the contents of his safe and a dwindling stock of single-malt Scotch to bribe and cajole the Hutu officials that he has long entertained as hotel guests. He also uses a lot of flattery, apologies and, when necessary, lies about how the Americans will prosecute them for war crimes. Rusesabagina is thus able to protect the Tutsis, which include his wife (Sophie Okonedo) and three children. He goes without sleep, makes calls to Belgium and even ventures out for food, in the middle of the night. Bartering with an old acquaintance who is now a Hutu captain, Rusesabagina observes naked, caged Tutsi women and later, hundreds of bodies littering the roads. So when he runs out of Scotch, he knows their time is up.
The point is underscored early on in the film when a cynical journalist (Joaquin Phoenix) shows Rusesabagina footage of the genocides. Although shocked at the violence, Rusesabagina is relieved, because he knows that when these images are televised, they will mobilize foreign armies. The journalist gives him a reality check. “If people see this footage, they’ll say, ‘Oh, my God, that’s terrible,’ and then they’ll go on eating their dinner,” he says. Oliver echoes this when he says, “You aren’t even a n----, Paul. You’re an African. No one cares. They’re not coming.”
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