Combustible Celluloid
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With: Don Cheadle, Sophie Okonedo, Nick Nolte, Joaquin Phoenix
Written by: Keir Pearson, Terry George
Directed by: Terry George
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and brief strong language
Language: English
Running Time: 110
Date: 10/09/2004

Hotel Rwanda (2004)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Heartbreaking 'Hotel'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This intense film depicts the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, during which Hutu armies rose up against the Tutsis and slaughtered nearly a million people in less than 100 days. Hotel Rwanda has been repeatedly compared to Schindler's List, mostly because its hero, hotel clerk Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle), risks his life and uses the resources at his disposal to save over 1200 people.

But Schindler's List was an artistic rendering of a tragedy, while writer/director Terry George goes for dramatic realism much closer to Roland Joffe's The Killing Fields or Oliver Stone's Salvador. He's so successful that even the little dramatic tricks used to tie together disparate events glide smoothly and unobtrusively with the journalistic flow. George depicts Rusesabagina as a charmer and a wheeler-dealer with a passive side; he can't bring himself to believe that help is not on the way.

Usually cast as a sidekick or a colorful character, Cheadle is the perfect actor to embody these qualities and he does a remarkable job. And Sophie Okonedo (Dirty Pretty Things) turns in a small miracle of a performance in the nearly thankless role of Paul's wife, giving her the proper humanity and weight. Nick Nolte and Joaquin Phoenix turn up in small roles as a UN colonel and a journalist, respectively.

I consider myself pretty hardened at this point, and have never really cried much in movies, but Hotel Rwanda had me openly and unabashedly weeping like a small child.

In 2011, MGM and Fox released a beautiful Blu-Ray edition, which features a commentary track by director George and the real-life Rusesabagina, as well as "select" commentary tracks by star Cheadle and musician Wyclef Jean. There are also a couple of documentaries. The movie turned a profit and seems to have connected deeply with a great many viewers, and while I still think it's a great film, I find that my desire to see it a second time is low.

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