How do you find fault with a film about the largely ignored 1994 Rwandan genocide which saw the brutal massacre of upto 1 million children, women and men? That's the dilemma I find myself in. Because on one hand, I am deeply touched by the human equation of the film, and its courage to bring a period of history shunned by the wider western world but, on the other, I am also disappointed by the incredulous, ham-handed conventionalism such an important subject is accorded in "Hotel Rwanda." Given its powerful source material – and besides the searing, gut-wrenching imagery in the film (in one sequence a van is forced to drive over a road littered with dead bodies of Tutsis) – writer-director Terry George provides us with little originality or vision.
"Hotel Rwanda" is based on the true story of how Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle), the manager a luxury hotel in the Rwandan capital Kigali, saved the lives of over a thousand members of the Tutsi minority from the machetes of the Hutu majority (ironically, Paul himself is Hutu). To the film's credit, he is a psychologically complex character who is impelled to find the delicate balance between protecting his job and family and also of doing the greater good when the UN forces pull out and leave the innocents in his hotel to the merciless Hutu militia. Paul uses his intuition and negotiation skills to bribe the military into providing temporary protection while he bargains for overpriced food rations with heartless Hutu suppliers. In effect, Paul becomes the Oskar Schindler of Rwanda. And the film – as a direct result – becomes more about one man's personal struggle in the face of unimaginable horror. And this, unfortunately, kind of works against it because we learn little about the historic socio-political forces that produced the genocide in Rwanda. Almost nothing substantial is said about why the US did not intervene during the genocide. For example, a quick reference will reveal that the Battle of Mogadishu in Somalia in 1993 had a profound cautionary influence on American foreign policy. So what we get instead, in "Hotel Rwanda," is a sort of watered-down version of a larger, more complicated geopolitical issue. A scene that immediately comes to mind is Nick Nolte's frustrated UN peacekeeper putting reality into perspective for Paul: "The West, all the superpowers, they think you're dirt. They think you're dung. You're not even a nigger. You're African." Of course, morally, we understand this statement because the sad, shameful truth is that the West did abandon Rwanda in 1994. But why must we, as reasonable adults, buy into a simplified version of the truth without considering the bigger picture?
In the end, I am compelled to recommend "Hotel Rwanda" for its significant subject matter and Don Cheadle's flawless performance. This is just enough glue to hold the film together and save it from plummeting into absolute mediocrity. - Adnan Khan