As we all know, that’s exactly what happened.  The year was 1994 and, under the leadership of President William Jefferson Clinton, we did absolutely nothing.  The U.S. State Department, talking about the uprising on the radio, would only admit to “acts of genocide,” rather than the full-scale holocaust that was taking place – even though they knew exactly what was happening.  The media barely covered the war.  As a result, a million people were slaughtered in less than 100 days – the fastest genocide in world history. 

Rusesabagina’s story is a sobering one about the dilemma we might all face someday.  His neighborhood looks like any American suburb, and the Rwandans are exactly like us – families, neighbors, coworkers, churchgoers.  As we watch the film, we feel a creeping sense of reality – along with overwhelming shame, for having allowed these atrocities to happen.  Because he is Irish, director Terry George (“In the Name of the Father”) understands this, and he wisely focuses his film not on the entire war but on one person.  It is a powerful, devastating story.

In his first major leading role, Cheadle deserves the Best Actor nomination for his portrayal of Rusesabagina.  He has captured all the African nuances – the deferential subservience in front of Europeans and Americans which in no way means stupidity, as well as the character’s brilliant cunning.  His quiet reserve – he puts on a clean shirt, tie and suit every single morning – underscores his pent-up emotions, so that when he does fall apart, in one devastating scene, we want to cry with him.  Okonedo has also captured a nomination for Best Supporting Actress, and she, too, is well-deserving.  Far removed from the brazen prostitute she played in “Dirty Pretty Things,” she is truly beautiful to watch onscreen.  We sense her devotion to her family, her fear and her courage.  Together, the pair offer a powerful message about the strength of marriage, and how it serves to empower us in the most terrible of times.

Nolte has been in the press a lot for personal problems, but he does a good job as the gruff U.N. colonel.  I had no idea his character was French-Canadian, however, until I read the press notes.  An accent, even nuanced, would have improved his performance.  The cinematography is good, with a slight documentary feel when handling the killings, which are seen mostly offscreen, through a fog or in grainy footage, and usually from a distance.  It is the dead bodies, however – hundreds and hundreds of them – which have the greatest impact, as well as the film’s suspenseful pacing.  Hang on to your seat – and your hankie.

A film of great moral and cinematic value, “Hotel Rwanda” is a sobering reminder of just how important it is for those who have power – whether financial, physical or moral – to intervene, when great evil is taking place.  If we do not, then who will?  And then who will be there for us, when it is our turn?
      
AUDIENCE:  Mature adolescents – with a prior history lesson, to prepare them.

OBJECTIONABLE CONTENT:

  • Drugs/Alcohol Content:   Characters drink and smoke throughout the film, sometimes heavily; character uses beer and liquor as bribes.
  • Language/Profanity:   A dozen or so obscenities (including one f- word) and several profanities (GD, OMG, OG, J).
  • Sexual Content/Nudity:   Women in bikinis; man in robe (appears to have just had sex); woman’s cleavage and naked women in a cage who are crouched and cowering in fear (side view – very brief).
  • Violence:   Most of the violence is conceptual, in that it is threatened throughout the film, and revealed through repeated shots of dead bodies and the sound of gunfire.  In many scenes, soldiers wave guns and machetes while people cower in fear.  A child is discovered covered in blood, but safe, and he is traumatized. Explosions go off, rocket missiles are fired (setting buildings on fire) and cars and convoys are shot at and attacked.  Several times, a gun is held to someone’s head.  We hear about various murders throughout the film.  People are beaten, but not brutally, and mostly offscreen.  A character is ordered to kill another character (but refuses).  There are several instances where people are killed onscreen, e.g. shots are fired while people are running down a road, and some people fall; and another scene where we see, from a distance, through grainy press footage, people being hacked with machetes (but no blood or gore).  In two scenes, characters have blood on them.   In another scene, a character orders his wife to commit suicide with the children rather than allowing them to see their parents murdered.