- Hotel Rwanda movie (2004) review: As Kigali hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina, who has been credited with saving the lives of more than 1,000 people during the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, American actor Don Cheadle – ably assisted by British actress Sophie Okonedo as Rusesabagina’s wife – is nothing short of sensational in director and co-screenwriter Terry George’s competently made but absurdly “uplifting” political drama.
Hotel Rwanda movie review: Don Cheadle delivers 1st-rate work in well-made but absurdly ‘crowd-pleasing’ genocide drama
The second feature by Northern Irish filmmaker Terry George, who also cowrote the screenplay with American first-timer (and former Olympic rower) Keir Pearson, the Anglo-Italian-South African coproduction Hotel Rwanda is set at the time of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide.
While the world looked away – much of it gearing up for the World Cup in Los Angeles – in the second quarter of that year one of history’s deadliest wholesale slaughters of human beings took place in the small Central African nation.
Following the death of Rwanda’s President Juvenal Habyarimana, an ethnic Hutu whose plane was shot down above the airport in the capital city of Kigali on April 6, the Hutu powers-that-be decided it was time to eliminate the Tutsi minority who were blamed for the crash.
What followed in the next three months was an orgy of hackings and shootings throughout the country of 7.6 million people that left more than 800,000 dead: Mostly Tutsis, but also a number of Hutus who refused to take part in the blood-drenched madness.
Superb Don Cheadle as ‘Rwandan Oskar Schindler’
Hotel Rwanda’s focus, however, is not the free-for-all murders, but the deeds of one Hutu man: Paul Rusesabagina, a Kigali hotel manager – and a more family-friendly version of Schindler’s List hero Oskar Schindler – who, through a combination of diplomacy and bribes, is credited with saving the lives of 1,200 Tutsis and “moderate” Hutus who had found refuge at his Hôtel de Mille Collines (Hotel of a Thousand Hills).
Though marred by some Hollywood-inspired melodramatics, a narrative that feels at times a tad too didactic (the filmmakers are adamant that we learn the non-difference between Hutus and Tutsis), and an appallingly incongruous “happy ending” – once again, shades of Steven Spielberg’s crowd-pleasing Holocaust drama – Hotel Rwanda is nevertheless a notable effort.
The story itself has enough emotional charge to propel any number of films, but what truly gives this motion picture its heart and soul is the outstanding performance by its leading man. Though looking nothing like the actual Paul Rusesabagina, Don Cheadle – ably assisted by British actress Sophie Okonedo and the latest U.S. actor cast as a real-life African individual – comes across not as your usual movie hero but as one terrified man struggling to stay afloat in a bottomless ocean of human monstrosity.
Hotel Rwanda (2004)
Director: Terry George.
Screenplay: Keir Pearson & Terry George.
Cinematography: Robert Fraisse. Film Editing: Naomi Geraghty. Music: Afro Celt Sound System, Rupert Gregson-Williams, and Andrea Guerra. Production Design: Johnny Breedt & Tony Burrough. Producers: Terry George & A. Kitman Ho.
“Hotel Rwanda Movie (2004) Review” notes
From international hero to political prisoner
 March 2021 update: As found in a February 2021 New York Times report, Paul Rusesabagina has gone from international hero to political prisoner, having been arrested by the government of Rwanda’s authoritarian leader Paul Kagame under charges that include terrorist activities.
According to another (September 2020) Times report, a friend of Kagame’s invited Don Cheadle to play Rusesabagina once again, but in a movie depicting the former hotel manager in an unfavorable light.
According to Cheadle, he replied, “You want me to play the same character in a movie I was nominated for an Oscar for, to say that movie was horseshit, and now I’m doing the real movie? I’m probably not going to do that.”
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Hotel Rwanda movie cast and crew information via the AFI Catalog website and other sources.
Sophie Okonedo and Don Cheadle Hotel Rwanda movie image: United Artists | Lionsgate | MGM.
“Hotel Rwanda Movie (2004) Review: Superb Cheadle in Dismayingly ‘Uplifting’ Genocide Drama” last updated in March 2021.