'Schindler's List' in Africa

Staff WriterJanuary 21, 2005 

From left, Antonio David, Sophie Okonedo and Don Cheadle lead a riveting cast.

In "Hotel Rwanda," Don Cheadle gives a performance so harrowing, so genuine, so star-making that it's impossible to be sarcastic about it. Unlike many of the other "For Your Oscar Consideration" performances actors have been giving of late, Cheadle's turn in this fact-based drama isn't all flash and attention-grabbing. He doesn't play some revolutionary, bisexual, mentally and terminally ill millionaire musical genius with a weight problem. Although he plays a real person, he still plays him as just an ordinary man trapped in an unbelievable situation. It's the kind of performance you wish you saw more often.

Cheadle is Paul Rusesabagina, the hotel manager of the luxury, Belgian-owned Hotel Mille Collines in Kigali, capital of Rwanda, circa 1994. Greasing hands and making sure dignitaries and important figures are comfortable, Rusesabagina makes sure everything is secure for the hotel as well as his family in a land bristling with civil unrest between its main tribes, the Hutus and the Tutsis.

The unrest comes to a head as Hutu extremists kill all high-profile Tutsis and moderate Hutus (including the Rwandan president) in order to stop the implementation of peace accords, turning all Tutsis into targets and prompting them to escape to friendly ground. Rusesabagina, a Hutu, soon becomes an African Oskar Schindler, housing 1,268 Hutu and Tutsi refugees, including his Tutsi wife (a dynamite Sophie Okonedo) and his family as white people flee unscathed to their neutral territories and the Tutsi body count rises. He finds himself wheeling and dealing once more, but this time to protect himself and hundreds of innocents from genocide.

The story in "Rwanda" is simple and straightforward. Yet it's still too amazing to wrap your head around. It's one of those true stories that make you ask, "Where were we when all this was happening?" (The answer's too depressing to reiterate.) George -- who's best known for scripting the woes of the Irish, along with director Jim Sheridan, in the films "In the Name of the Father" and "The Boxer" -- lays out the whole bloody ordeal (with co-writer Keir Pearson) in a way that's both unsettling and fascinating. George certainly found the right actor to play Rusesabagina, as Cheadle exudes nothing but quiet, brave dignity in his portrayal. (There was talk that Will Smith might've played him. No offense to Mr. "Wild, Wild West," but only an actor like Cheadle could've played this guy.)

With all the talk of this movie and that getting accolades on Oscar night, there's a good chance "Hotel Rwanda" will be practically neglected amid all the hubbub. Try not to do the same.

Staff writer Craig D. Lindsey can be reached at 829-4760 or clindsey@newsobserver.com.

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service