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Hotel Rwanda

You Can Never Leave

Natural disasters that destroy villages and decimate populations easily bring out the world's empathy. People travel to aid victims and money pours in from all over the world to help with relief efforts. When it comes to genocide, however, humanitarian intervention becomes considerably harder to count on.

Such was the case nearly ten years ago, in April 1994, when Rwanda descended into chaos. "Tribal warfare" quickly grew into all-out mass murder as Hutu extremists slaughtered the Tutu minority population in their midst: forty thousand in four days, one million in a hundred. Somehow -- by sheer force of will, character, guile, and luck -- one hotel manager, Paul Rusesabagina, saved the lives of over 1,200 people as he holed them up at his resort and awaited succor from a world that did not care.

Rusesabagina's story would have been perfect fodder for a riveting documentary. In Terry George's Hotel Rwanda, it becomes something greater and more universal. Bare facts yield to extreme emotions as Rusesabagina's character, patience, and faith in humanity are severely tested.

Don Cheadle is utterly compelling as hotelier Rusesabagina. His bosses may live halfway around the world in Brussels but when push comes to shove, it's Rusesabagina who gives the orders to maintain a semblance of decorum amid the carnage just down the street. Cheadle's performance carries the entire film; his character's perfectionism, duty, and devotion seem quaint -- even pigheaded -- given the situation but they are the qualities that save those in his care and redeem the actions of his people.

Equally determined to save her loved ones is Rusesabagina's wife, Tatiana (Sophie Okonedo), who carries the double burden of looking after her family as well as the well-being of her understandably stressed husband. Although Paul is mostly calm and collected; it's hard to know for sure exactly how he reacts to his surroundings until things turn for the worse. Tatiana, however, conveys the same emotions on the outside that Paul must be bottling up inside: disbelief at the existence of the incredible hostility around him, faith in the compassion of others and the inevitable help from others around the world, concern for loved ones suddenly gone missing, and finally sheer determination to survive.

As the leader of the embattled and retreating UN peacekeeping force, Colonel Oliver (Nick Nolte) is in the unenviable position of having to shatter Rusesabagina's belief system. The world does not care about Rwanda and his men's strict orders are not to shoot unless fired upon directly. They essentially must stand by as unarmed civilians around them are slaughtered. Nolte lends the role the fatigued, seen-it-all sensibility and hushed vocal intensity that is his current stock in trade. He's pissed as hell but really sorry he can't be of better service.

Besides the central characters, Hotel Rwanda includes many interesting minor characters who are equally memorable. They not only breathe life into the Hotel Mille Collines, where much of the action takes place, but add complexity to the political forces driving the terrible actions that unfold.

In order not to turn the film into an unwatchable orgy of violence, director George's script, cowritten with Keir Pearson, concentrates less on the entirety of the genocide and focuses more on personal tragedies and small triumphs. The point of Hotel Rwanda is not to bludgeon audiences; its message is to convey in no uncertain terms that madness can spring anywhere from unexpected situations, that the consequences of global indifference are dire, and that overcoming brutality should not be left to a few reckless souls who risk everything to prove their humanity.

Rating: 4 stars out of 5