Heroes are all too often manufactured in movies. Paul Rusesabagina is not such a contrivance. Based on his unbelievably noble actions in 1994 when the Hutus were slaughtering the Tutsis in the tiny African country of Rwanda, Hotel Rwanda shows how one man—even a terrified one—can literally save the world (or at least his portion of it).
Paul is managing the upscale Hotel Milles Collines in the city of Kigali when the genocide begins. He is Hutu. His wife is not. And in the beginning he is only willing to protect his own family. His mind changes rapidly as the atrocities escalate. And he turns the hotel into a refugee camp of sorts, using beer, expensive jewelry, lots of cash, and mountains of courage and quick thinking to secure the survival of more than 1,200 souls.
There is nothing more positive than when a man lays down his life for his family, his friends and in this case, strangers as well. Paul repeatedly risks everything to save those around him. His (outwardly) calm dedication to those he considers to be in his charge is singularly inspiring.
Paul and his wife, Tatiana, share what I can only call a great love for each other. Paul would sooner die a thousand deaths than allow his bride to be harmed. She feels exactly the same way about him. Both love and protect their children with equal fervor.
Col. Oliver, a Canadian representing the United Nations in Rwanda, does everything he can to help Paul. And he bitterly condemns those who he believes are ignoring Rwanda's crisis because its citizens are "dirt." As he puts it to Paul, the Western world despises you because "you're black. You're not even a n-gger, you're an African." Later, when Paul realizes Oliver is right, and that there will be no intervening military force sent to their aid, he agonizes over how little he seems to be worth to his white friends. In doing so he teaches us all a lesson we dare not forget. "They told me I was one of them ... and I swallowed it," he laments.
Also, a Red Cross worker tirelessly comes to the aid of Tutsi orphans, as do a group of Catholic nuns.
Seeing her neighbors lying dead in their yards, Tatiana blurts out what feels like a prayer: "Oh Jesus, no!" Paul tells his wife that he thanks God every day for the time they've had together.
Before things fall apart, tourists in skimpy bikinis lounge by the hotel's pool.
Gut-wrenching and intense, but restrained in its depiction if one applies the standard of today's gory war movies. Hundreds of dead bodies are seen littering yards and streets, but the camera takes no joy in recording their forms, and it makes a strict point of not watching too closely as people are killed. A journalist's television footage (shot from a distance) shows victims being hacked at with machetes. Machine-gun fire mows down crowds of people. Scores of homes are burned to the ground. Explosions and gunfire turn the city into what one Hutu gleefully refers to as a graveyard.
Blood flies when a man is struck in the mouth. Paul and Tatiana's young son is found covered in blood (not his own). Hutu soldiers rough up captives by hitting, kicking and striking them with their guns. One soldier puts a gun to Paul's head. Another is shot in the chest at close range. Women stripped of their clothes are seen caged in a pen (briefly, and in the dark).
Crude or Profane Language
A journalist blurts the f-word. There are a half-dozen s-words, and God's name is attached to "d--n" once. There are also a small handful of milder profanities.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Various characters smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol. Paul prizes Cuban cigars and uses them to butter up businessmen with whom he wishes to strike a good deal. Once the slaughter begins in earnest, he gives beer and hard liquor to Hutu soldiers to try to keep them away from the hotel's "guests." Col. Oliver is fond of Scotch; he notes that the Scottish call the drink "the water of life."
Other Negative Elements
Nearly 1 million people lost their lives in fewer than 100 days when the Hutus set about cleansing Rwanda of Tutsis a decade ago. The ethnic differences between the two peoples were small, almost indistinguishable, but the hatred ran too deep to care.
Most of us here in America barely noticed.
"Once people see the footage, surely there will be help!" exclaims Paul after Jack (a journalist desperate to get images out to the rest of the world) shoots video of women and children being viciously cut down. Jack grimly responds, "I think if people see this footage, they'll say, 'Oh my god, how horrible,' and they'll go on eating their dinners." Now, director Terry George wants us to remember what happened during those dark days in Rwanda with a clarity and emotional connection that we didn't have before. And he wants us to do something about it.
"Ten years on, politicians from around the world have made the pilgrimage to Rwanda to ask for forgiveness from the survivors, and once more the same politicians promise 'never again,'" George says. "But it's happening yet again in Sudan, or the Congo, or some godforsaken place where life is worth less than dirt. Places where men and women like Paul and Tatiana shame us all by their decency and bravery. ... I knew if we got this story right and got it made, it would have audiences from Peoria to Pretoria cheering for a real African hero who fought to save lives in a hell we would not dare to invent."
Without resorting to melodrama for even a second, the result of George's efforts stirs an anger and grief that goes far beyond mere empathy. The horror faced and the terror felt by Tutsi and Hutu innocents are palpable. And the onscreen plea is crystal: When atrocities are being committed in far-flung, sometimes forgotten regions of the world, the West should not ignore them.
By no means is Hotel Rwanda a film children should see (and by no means should it be deemed entertainment for moviegoers of any age). But for the millions of adults and teens who decide to take it in, it's my prayer that they will hold on to those feelings of rage and sorrow much longer than Jack thinks they will.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Don Cheadle as Paul Rusesabagina; Sophie Okonedo as Tatiana Rusesabagina; Nick Nolte as Colonel Oliver; Joaquin Phoenix as Jack; Desmond Dube as Dube; David O'Hara as David; Cara Seymour as Pat Archer; Fana Mokoena as General Augustin Bizimungo; Hakeem Kae-Kazim as George; Tony Kgoroge as Gregoire
Terry George ( The Promise)