Movies about real events are always a tough sell to an escapist public. Part of the enjoyment of movies is the break they provide from the mundane, and, unless the story is overly dramatic, people aren’t always interested. Watching “Hotel Rwanda” is like showing “Schindler’s List” to a group of Chinese people. As sympathetic they may be, they may not be able to relate to the events being depicted. Humans are sensitive to each other’s strife, but “Hotel Rwanda” struggles to connect with the human core of the average audience member.
In spite of having a story that tears at your soul, complete with acting that could leave many tears ducts gushing, “Hotel Rwanda” just doesn’t have enough heart to be the exceptional film it really wants to be. Terry George directs the story of the Hutu/Tutsi conflict in mid-’90s Rwanda. The real star of the movie is Don Cheadle. Cheadle is one of those actors who you know but you always find yourself saying, “oh what is his name again, I love him!” An exceptional actor, Cheadle is quite possibly one of the best character and method actors in recent memory. His nomination for an Oscar in this film does little to compliment his talent. As Hutu hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina, Cheadle’s performance carries the weight of the film. Veteran actress Sophie Okonedo and Nick Nolte, People magazine’s 1998 sexiest man alive, hold supporting roles. The acting is fine, but the story schizophrenically jumps between a tale of survival and one of love.
A little background on Rwanda is necessary to understand the implications of the plot. Belgian colonists came to Rwanda and separated the people there into the Tutsis and the Hutus. The Tutsis were a minority that helped enslave the Hutus. When the Belgians left, the Hutu majority got revenge on the Tutsis. Skip forward to 1994, the movie opens with our introduction to Paul (Cheadle) who is the manager of the most luxurious hotel in Rwanda. He is a connected man who knows how to work people and get what he wants. The Tutsis and Hutus are about to make a peace agreement when the Tutsis assassinate the Hutu president. To avenge the slaying, the Hutu majority decides to kill every Tutsi in Rwanda and anyone who helps them. As a Hutu, Paul is safe, but some of his friends and members of his extended family are Tutsi. As things continue to get worse, Paul makes the dangerous choice to harbor his Tustsi friends and family at his five-star hotel until U.N. Col. Oliver (Nolte) can help them escape.
Cheadle nails the character perfectly; there is not a second in the film that you doubt his complete transformation. The most powerful scene in the film comes when Cheadle’s character finally snaps from the pressure and begins to doubt the meaning in his life. Surprising acting from Okonedo more than sufficiently balances Cheadle’s Oscar-nominated performance.
“Hotel Rwanda” could have been better if given a more simplistic script with a clear-cut struggle. Political interests and complex plot lines bog down this touching story. The main reason to see this film is to witness Cheadle in a role that will solidify his reputation as one of Hollywood’s most charismatic actors. This picture, sadly, is destined to become one of those great films that just fell through the cracks.