Hotel Rwanda (2004)
I have for quite a while now claimed that Don Cheadle is the most talented African American actor in contemporary films. In Hotel Rwanda he gets the chance to confirm my claim, and does so startlingly. Like Paul Rusesabagina carries the hotel on his shoulders, Cheadle carries this film with a remarkably industrious and emotional performance.
Hotel Rwanda is directed by the Northern Irish Terry George, not a particularly experienced director (this is his second cinematic release), but a renowned writer from some of Jim Sheridan's best work (In the Name of the Father, The Boxer). He will probably never be an especially sophisticated director (his work here is basically invisible, albeit with narrative drive), but his script (co-written with Keir Pearson) is incredibly well-written and sharply focused. This is not predominantly a political document (although the political and historical aspect is highly interesting), but a portrait of the strength of human beings in strenuous situations. It is a film and a story that celebrates the goodness of man, but without being too saccharine about it. If he wanted to, George could have included more footage of the horrors of the Rwandan genocide. He doesn't. And he could also have explained things more explicitly - which would in many aspects force him to take a stand. He doesn't either. And I think these are wise moves by the filmmaker. It holds on to the natural human strength, and doesn't want to get caught up with the segregations and interpretations of politics. It gives the film a more heartfelt and universal tone.
There are many parallels between the stories about Paul Rusesabagina and Oskar Schindler (portrayed in Schindler's List) and the two films have many of the same strengths and aspects. George's film, however, isn't as contemplating as Spielberg's. It is far simpler in form and execution. Still it is remarkably powerful, and the performances will take much of the credit. Aside from a magnificent Cheadle, Sophie Okonedo is expressive and resilient by his side and the performance of Nick Nolte is both gentle and hard-edged.