The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.
Hotel Rwanda 
Directors: Terry George
Going into Hotel Rwanda, I kept hearing the same things.
“That is a real tearjerker.”
“That movie is so sad. Make sure to have a box of tissues nearby.”
Well, after watching it, I can certainly understand these sentiments.
The movie is about a horrifying time in the African country of Rwanda. The year is 1994, and a major civil war has broken out between two ethnic groups: the Hutu and Tutsi. The Hutus have pushed the Tutsi out of power and are now concentrating their efforts on mass genocide of the Tutsis.
Caught in the middle of this brutality is Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle) the manager of the four-star Sabena Hôtel des Mille Collines. He is Hutu, his wife Tatiana (Sophie Okonedo) is Tutsi. As the violence worsens, his hotel becomes something of an oasis for nearby refugees. Paul’s role quickly becomes that of a diplomat, carefully negotiating with rebels and military figures in order to obtain rations and maintain the safety of those staying with him. This becomes a thin line, as he struggles to maintain a balance between all of this.
Paul’s appeals for help reap little rewards. The UN has peacekeeping forces in the area led by Colonel Oliver (Nick Nolte), but they can offer little help. They have guns, but are ordered not to fire them. Oliver and his men do all they can, mainly by attempting to transfer refugees to “safe” locations, but it is clear that they have little support from those outside of the warzone. The president of Paul’s hotel chain, Mr. Tillens (Jean Reno), is mortified by what is going on, but again, his hands are pretty much tied. It’s a giant clusterfuck, as everyone is aware of the atrocities being committed but nothing is being done about it.
This is all very much a true story, and the end result shows that nearly one million people died during this genocide. Paul was able to save over 1,200 people with his hotel, which is absolutely remarkable.
Rather than focusing on showing us the countless murders, Hotel Rwanda demonstrates the power of men who want to do good. As a respected man in the area, Paul has chances to leave with his family, but he opts to stay and try to save some lives. I was pleased that the movie took this route, as it was not necessary to show endless moments of brutality in order to convey its message. This is about the power of humanity, and those who did everything they could to help in a terrifying situation.
Not enough can be said of Don Cheadle’s performance here. He is absolutely fantastic, perfectly portraying the despair and anguish his character is feeling, while at the same time showing the strength necessary to help his fellow people. His Oscar nomination was well deserved. Sophie Okonedo is excellent as his wife, and the rest of the cast is strong as well, even including a small role from Joaquin Phoenix as a news cameraman.
In short, Hotel Rwanda is a powerful and moving film that sheds some light on a massive genocide that most people either didn’t know about or didn’t care enough about. It’s depressing, yet also uplifting in a way thanks to the fact that one man was able to help save so many lives. Just incredible.