Review: Hotel Rwanda (2004)

Hotel Rwanda

Hotel Rwanda



Terry George


Terry George, Keir Pearson


110 min.


Don Cheadle, Sophie Okonedo, Nick Nolte, Joaquin Phoenix

MPAA Rating

PG-13 (For appeal for violence, disturbing images and brief strong language)

Buy/Rent Movie




In Rwanda, one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century took place. In Rwanda, thousands of people were slaughtered because of their political and social allegiances. In Rwanda, there was a hotel concierge who saved as many as he could.

Based on the true story of Paul Rusesabagina and his fight to save his family and hundreds of Rwandans, Hotel Rwanda tells a story of courage and determination in the face of adversity. The film begins shortly before major hostilities break out between rival Hutu and Tutsi factions. Political war explodes between the two as the Hutu militia begins slaughtering the Tutsis in an effort to prevent an uprising.

Paul, played with compassion by Don Cheadle, is a manager of the Rwandan property of a Belgian hotel chain. He is a card-carrying Hutu but his wife, children and extended family are all Tutsi. When the war breaks out, he brings them as well as many other Tutsis from the neighborhood with him to the hotel. There, they join many others who are all fighting to escape with their lives.

Nick Nolte plays Colonel Oliver, the head of United Nations peacekeeping efforts in the city. He attempts to keep the peace as much as possible but being forbidden the use of force, his capabilities are minimal. He does what he can but when the U.N. forces him to pull out, Paul is left with bribery as the only source to keep him, the hotel and his family safe.

The tragedy of the Rwandan genocide is in the lack of international aide given. Hotel Rwanda explores the social as well as political horrors surrounding the events. Cheadle and Sophie Okonedo, who plays Paul’s Tutsi wife Tatiana, help the audience understand fully the plight of the people who found themselves on the defensive end of the war. Cheadle is the emotional core of the film and without him, it likely would have collapsed under its own subject matter. Cheadle carries Rwanda with as much charisma and talent as the subject he plays.

Nolte’s gruff performance doesn’t fit perfectly but helps nonetheless to personify the frustration those who wanted to help felt when they were unable to act. Likewise, Joaquin Phoenix, who portrays a journalist working in the region, does what he can with a superficial role. He acts in a similar capacity to Nolte’s colonel, attempting to cover the news story and ending up swayed by its emotional power.

Director Terry George takes his screenplay, which he co-wrote with Keir Pearson, and turns it into a South African Schindler’s List. The film is quite powerful and gives the audience a great deal to think over but it plays exactly like the Steven Spielberg classic. It’s about one man who risks his life, his money and his sanity to protect hundreds of people. He uses charm, bartering and compassion in an effort to ensure as many as possible can survive.

George and Pearson can do little to buck the comparisons. However, they can control the style which fits nearly perfectly with List. That minor issue aside, Hotel Rwanda is still an outstanding and moving motion picture.

Review Written

December 31, 2004

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