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09.28.2006

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flick pick | Hotel Rwanda 2004
Directed by: Terry George
Written by: Keir Pearson, Terry George
Starring: Don Cheadle, Sophie Okonedo, Nick Nolte
Language: English
Look for it at the video store under: drama
Watch it when youíre in the mood for something: serious
Watch it when youíre in the mood for something:  serious, true?!?
The critic says: / 5 the rating system explained
Watchability factor: /5 

Plot synopsis Itís 1994 Rwanda, and the situation on the streets is utter chaos. In a country whose boundaries have been historically forced by outside colonial interests rather than internal agreement, the two major tribes, the Tutsi and the Hutu, find their long-standing cultural and power struggles once again at a head. Once the Tutsis were in charge, inflicting horrors on the subjugated Hutu in the process. Now the tables have turned and the Hutus have control, and in the crazy cycle of such things, Hutus have begun killing Tutsis left and right, demanding their complete extermination. So itís a testament to how good Paul Rusesabagina is at his job as manager of the upscale Belgian-run Hotel Des Milles Collines that within the hotelís elegant confines, the troubles in the capital city just outside seem a world away. Quietly thoughtful and ever discreet, Paul knows that the best kind of service is the sort thatís so perfect that guests donít take note of the details at all. He provides his wealthy guests -- a mix of Rwandan military bigwigs and international power players -- with everything they desire without them once having to ask for it first; he makes sure that his hotel always has the best ingredients, the best drinks, the little luxuries his clientele take for granted, never mind the bribes and extreme lengths he sometimes has to go to in obtaining such goods in a place like Rwanda. Paul himself is a Hutu, but married to a Tutsi, and heís convinced these latest troubles will blow over soon. But then his own family and friends begin to be targeted; he watches helplessly as the UN evacuates his hotelís European guests amid the escalating brutalities, abandoning his countrymen in the process, at a time when they most need outside support. Soon, mild-mannered Paul finds himself playing a far more important role at the hotel, as he shelters his family and over a 1000 other Tutsi refugees and moderate Hutus, and fights to find a way to save them all.

Review Like a lot of people I suppose, I read all sorts of horrible things in the news each morning, shake my head at all that violence and injustice, curse the stupid politicians and the evil governments -- finish up my mug oí tea and promptly get on with my comfortable, privileged, middle-class North American life. Weíre bombarded with so many of these brief, detached newsbites that we get a little inured to it; as small-minded and self-absorbed as it is, itís hard to look at images of people who dress differently, talk differently, live differently, and immediately get how what happens way out there applies to us over here. So this is what I love about books and movies based on history and fact: they put us into those other places, those other lives, bringing us face to face with distinct individuals rather than broad generalized ďpeopleĒ, immersing us in situations that seem so far removed from our own lives at first glance. Based on a true story, Hotel Rwanda provides a historical and cultural context for the 1994 massacre by not focusing on the massacre or the politics at all. Instead, we see the situation from the eyes of a guy who, when we first meet him, seems like just a regular schmo trying to do well at the job that keeps his family comfortable. He doesnít seem terribly noble; heís not particularly brave. He wears blinders to the terrible things happening right outside his door, because all that doesnít seem like his world; itís happening to other people, and heíll do whatever he has to do to keep it far from his own life. The always-amazing Don Cheadle makes us feel Paulís ordinariness from the get-go; he doesnít seem a whole lot different from ourselves. This, of course, is exactly what makes his eventual heroism so affecting; it shows how you donít have to be a great person to do great things, how sometimes the smallest of gestures -- offering a few spare rooms to folks who need it -- can turn into a bold stand. All of which could have been cliché, but Hotel Rwanda avoids the big cheesy inspirational speeches, concentrating on Paulís emotions and actions instead. Itís the best sort of based-on-real-life message movie: one that make you listen and think and feel, that reminds you of the importance of understanding history, and inspires you to want to learn more. óreviewed by Yee-Fan Sun

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