Directed by Terry George, starring Don Cheadle, Sophie Okonedo, Nick Nolte, Joaquin Phoenix, Desmond Dube and David O'Hara.
It is over 10 years now since the African state of Rwanda descended into a civil war that claimed the lives of almost 1m people. 'Hotel Rwanda' is the first discernible cinematic attempt to capture that awful time in African history and the shame the developed world must share for our unwillingness to intervene.
The film is the true story of Paul Rusesabagina (Cheadle), a Hutu, who managed a Belgian-owned hotel at the time of the crisis. His wife Tatiana (Okonedo) is a Tutsi, who were hated by many of the ruling Hutus.
When war broke out and the horrific genocide engulfed the former Belgian colony, Paul's first thoughts were to save his family. However, as the madness continued he used his position in the hotel, his contacts, and his wit, charm and cunning to try and save over 1,000 people, both Tutsi and Hutu, from certain death by sheltering them at the Hotel Des Milles Collines in the capital Kigali.
The story is amazing and it, along with the Oscar-nominated performance from Cheadle, carries this film from start to finish. He has clearly moved to another level in his career and was unlucky not to beat Jamie Foxx in the Best Actor category. Okonedo also got a nomination for Best Supporting Actress, but she, like everyone else (through no fault of their own), is dwarfed by Cheadle.
Yet, for all the good aspects of the movie (and there are many), there is the feeling that director Terry George has slightly misjudged things. George has had plenty of experience dealing with the troubles in Northern Ireland, having written previously directed 'Some Mother's Son' as well as writing the screenplays for 'The Boxer' and 'In the Name of the Father'.
There is a telling scene where Jack (Joaquin Phoenix), an American cameraman, tells Paul that when viewers in the West see the horrific images of violence at home they will say 'that's terrible' and go back to eating their dinners. In many ways that's how you might feel after viewing. While watching, you feel ashamed to be part of the world that left the Rwandan people high and dry, but once you leave the cinema that guilt quickly dissipates. That shame should linger, and the fact that it doesn't speaks volumes.
Many have compared this film to 'Schindler's List' and although there are striking similarities, Steven Spielberg managed to touch a few more raw nerves than George has here. There is a distinct lack of graphic fighting and death scenes which was clearly a conscious editorial decision. Some will say that's a wise choice, but it feels like the experience is diluted somewhat, and that we are being shielded from the worst the Rwandan people suffered. They had to live through it, the least we should do is have the stomach to see it re-enacted.
In saying that, this is a major step in educating us all as to what we all let happen by turning away from a nation's cry for help. Surely, more films will follow on the issue and for that, and for the powerful tale of an ordinary man's struggle to deal with an extraordinary situation, all involved should take a bow.