How can a movie about how one man saved the lives of a thousand refugees using only his wits and powers of persuasion be this dull? Hotel Rwanda is the true story of Paul Rusesabagina, a hotel manager in Kigali, Rwanda, and how, through his efforts, his hotel (a luxury hotel owned by a Belgian company) became an asylum for peace and sanity during the horrendous 1994 Rwandan civil war. Very poor writing and filmmaking mar what could’ve been a tense and absorbing historical chronicle told from a harrowing first-person perspective. Don Cheadle serves his role admirably and with dedication, delivering a first-rate performance as Rusesabagina. But director Terry George is too preoccupied with taking his story through its plot paces to render any style or dramatic energy to his film. Keir Pearson and Terry George’s script, likewise, takes no risks, never plunging us headlong into Rusesabagina’s dire and terrible daily realities with the uncompromised vision it needs to acquit this material. Joaquin Phoenix’s role as a morally fraught cameraman is basically a glorified walk-on (smacking of a star doing his bit for what is politically correct) and Nick Nolte is god-awful doing his gritty, snarling shtick as a UN officer disgruntled and disillusioned by the world’s apathy to Africa.
This is potentially fantastic material, addressing a culture and an attitude to that culture that we badly need to see depicted on screen. Unfortunately, George’s attempt at it is too mired in movie-of-the-week sensibilities, in flat-out bad storytelling to do any justice to its subject matter. I couldn’t believe how visually insipid this movie was–it looked like a “B” movie from the 80s, absolutely uninspired and, even on the level of cinema, a total travesty. Watch The Killing Fields and Schindler’s List for their far more riveting and cinematically vital takes on similar themes.
Directed by: Terry George
Written by: Keir Pearson, Terry George
Cast: Don Cheadle, Sophie Okonedo, Nick Nolte, Desmond Dube