Hotel Rwanda’ washes over brutal truth

“Hotel Rwanda”United ArtistsDirected by Terry GeorgeWritten by Keir Pearson and Terry GeorgeStarring Don Cheadle, Sophie Okonedo, Nick Nolte, Joaquin PheonixRated PG-13/ 121 minutesReleased (limited) Dec. 22

Three out of five stars

“Hotel Rwanda” tells the story of Paul Rusesebagina, the manager of the Des Milles Collines hotel in Kigali who risked his life to save more than 1,200 refugees inside the confines of his hotel. The film is highlighted by Don Cheadle’s amazingly humane performance as Paul, the man who saw the horrific slaughter around him and could not stand by idly or flee for his life without looking back.

The slaughter of an estimated 700,000 people in Rwanda (in little more than four months’ time) highlighted the neglect the rest of the world gives to countries in Africa.

The brutal killings, many of which were achieved by means of crude machete swords, were done by Hutu tribe extremists bent on wiping out the members of the Tutsi tribe as the world ignored them.

The film is a heart-breaking tale where hope is shattered time and time again, and the pursuits of kind souls can lead to miraculous outcomes.

“Hotel Rwanda’s” focus is primarily on the individual stories taking place within the walls of the hotel as Paul, an accepting Hutu whose wife is Tutsi, does all he can to save the lives of strangers with no other hope.

This zeroing in on the personal plights succeeds in creating empathy for the persecuted Tutsis. It sinks the heart into the sadness that was the outcome of the slaughter.

However, this is also the movie’s main downfall, as the utter brutality and epic violence is forced to the periphery, the true sense of horror is never accurately seen.

The movie fails in its portrayal of the genocide. We do see scores of bodies strewn about fields and roads, but we don’t witness the violence inflicted. The story opens with Paul as the man in charge of a four-star hotel. Paul is attending to his guests every need and even paying off a Hutu army general in expensive scotch to attain favor. Tensions between the ethnically different Hutus and Tutsis are reaching near boiling point.

A newly established peace-accord is shattered when an airplane carrying Rwanda’s president is shot down.Presidential guards and Hutu policemen began killing off Tutsi dissidents and rooting neighborhoods for supposed spies.

Paul comes home from work to find a horde of his Tutsi neighbors hiding with his family. Hutu forces soon show up and Paul bribes them into allowing him to take everyone to the hotel for refuge. It is the first of many bribes and pleadings by Paul to save these people.

While Paul is keeping everyone safe from harm, his family is his real focus, having told his wife Tatiana (played magnificently by Sophia Okonedo) that “family is everything.” In his times of overwhelming doubt and fear, it is Paul’s wife and children who are able to give him the courage and strength to continue.

The film’s supporting cast, including Nick Nolte as a United Nations colonel and Joaquin Phoenix as a Western news cameraman, are superb as well.

The utter impotence of the U.N. and cowardice of the United States is astounding.Coming off of the public relations disaster of downed Black Hawk helicopters and lost U.S. servicemen in Somalia, the film shows how the Clinton administration has refused to get involved beyond humanitarian measures.The U.N. peacekeeping force is restricted by its superiors, ultimately being rendered unable to do anything more than stand guard in utter incompetence. The faith that Paul and other Rwandans have in the Western world-believing they will intervene and put an end to the slaughter-leaves them dumbfounded when it doesn’t happen. Nolte’s Colonel Olive puts it simply to Paul in one truthful scene when he says of the West that “they think you’re dirt, they think you’re done, they think you’re hopeless. You’re not even a n*****, you’re just African.”

Viewers can’t help but wonder if eye-opening, brutally realistic violence in this film would strike pangs of emotion not only in our hearts (at which “Hotel Rwanda” succeeds admirably), but also produce a visceral, gut-wrenching reaction in our stomachs. It would help force people to confront the awful truth of the terrors that have happened, and continue to happen, around the world.

Just as the opening D-Day sequence in “Saving Private Ryan” brought to the screen a new understanding of the human pain and suffering involved, “Hotel Rwanda” could’ve taken that path-without extracting any of the powerful emotional punch involved in the story.

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