Reel American HistoryHistory on trial Main Page

AboutFilmsFor StudentsFor TeachersBibliographyResources

Films >> Hotel Rwanda (2004) >>

As a whole, Hotel Rwanda has received overwhelmingly positive reviews from Western journalists. However, there has been criticism from an anti-Western perspective. Many of the written reviews contain both criticism and praise. Critics generally praise the moving real-life story of Paul Rusesabagina and Don Cheadle’s remarkable portrayal of this real-life hero. Yet they are divided on whether the film is artistically impressive, and some are critical of the “emotional” ending that suddenly feels fictional after an intense presentation that brings the genocide to life. Many critics praise the filmmakers’ decisions to focus on the real life story of Paul Rusesabagina, which, highlighting human reactions and emotions, brings the genocide to life, yet others are critical that this focus does not do justice to the devastating history or that, on the other hand, it misrepresents history altogether.

Adams, Sam. "Safe at Home." Philadelphia City Paper 6 January 2005. http://www.citypaper.net/articles/2005-01-06/movies.shtml
Adams provides the most critical review of Hotel Rwanda in this set. He is hotly frustrated that the film generates an uplifting message, when in reality the West did not provide aid and assistance to Rwanda during the genocide. Hotel Rwanda should not receive greater respect than it deserves; instead, it should be remembered that it is just a movie. Worthy subject matter does not automatically make a great film: "The fact that Hotel Rwanda addresses an important subject doesn't make it an important movie, or even a worthwhile one. In fact, the gravity of its subject matter only raises the cost of failure, transforming a mediocre movie into an offensively inadequate one." Instead, Adams believes the intensity of the subject matter has made Hotel Rwanda a greater failure as a film. Adams recognizes Cheadle's outstanding performance, yet he denigrates the rest of the cast -- the characters are generalized and flat, their power diminished by attempting to combine too many into one. Such films err by attempting to take "stories from the news to the entertainment section, because they boil historical complexities down to trite good-vs.-evil tales, and, mostly, because they're accompanied by extensive advertising campaigns" — and this combination creates a faulty film.
Arendt, Paul. "Hotel Rwanda." BBC 20 February 2005. http://www.bbc.co.uk/films/2005/02/17/hotel_rwanda_2005_review.shtml
Hotel Rwanda lacks artistic value and has an undeniably unrealistic feel. Arendt acknowledges the challenges of depicting such an event on film, yet he is not confident this was a smart choice. The emotional ending is unnaturally optimistic, and the thunderstorms too synchronized with the violence. Arendt is the first, however, to note Sophie Okonedo's performance as comparable to Don Cheadle's, and he does appreciate the film's "emotional and political punch."
Baker, Tom. "The understated horror of 'Rwanda.'" Daily Yomiuri (Tokyo) 12 January 2006: 7.
Hotel Rwanda's effective style distinguishes it from countless other gory political dramas. Baker appreciates the focus on the human emotions as opposed to the over-exposure of bloody bodies. For example, in the scene in which Paul and Gregoire drive over the bodies, the focus is not on butchered corpses but on the reactions of the men: "The mood is more strongly one of despair than of horror." This tactic is purposeful and effective. Baker commends the film for focusing on the personal and human story embodied in a real-life character such as Paul Rusesabagina.
Burr, Ty. "Cheadle Brings Quiet Power to ‘Rwanda.'" Boston Globe 7 January 2005. http://www.boston.com/movies/display?display=movie&id=7112
Burr is both critical of the style of Hotel Rwanda and appreciative of its ability to transmit the history of Paul Rusesabagina and bring a reality check to Westerners regarding their involvement in the genocide. Burr first degrades the film by claiming it has "no particular style," wishing it were better than a "really really good TV movie." Both attitudes reveal his dissatisfaction with the film. Yet, on a positive note, Burr praises Don Cheadle's performance and states that this portrayal provides one of the two great strengths of the film. Burr agrees with Holden's comment on the unexpectedly low amount of bloodshed but believes it creates a lack of intensity that could have been beneficial to the film. Attempting to end on a positive note, Burr states that Hotel Rwanda did accomplish two worthy goals: first, to recognize Rusesabagina's character and, second, to instill guilt and responsibility on all Westerners.
Christopher, James. "Hotel Rwanda." The Times (London) 24 February 2005. http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/film/article517971.ece
Hotel Rwanda is a "bizarre" attempt to place too great a focus on a love story as opposed to the bitter reality of the genocide. Nick Nolte's portrayal of Colonel Oliver, as well as the emotive orchestra, make the film too obviously a Hollywood fiction as opposed to a vehicle to greater reality. Christopher does, however, recognize the valor and "dignity" of Paul Rusesabagina
Cowley, Jason. "Rebirth of a Nation." The Observer 26 February 2005. http://www.theguardian.com/film/2005/feb/27/features.review
Cowley questions the morality of turning such a horrific event into a source of entertainment, noting a certain level of "atrocity tourism" in representing genocide in popular culture. Many Africans also feel that no outside person could ever come close to understanding the truth. Regarding Hotel Rwanda, Cowley says that Rusesabagina's story has the "simplicity of myth: a heroic last man putting others before himself in a time of chaos." Director George told him he underplayed the violence in the hopes of "generating discussion and for people to learn from it." Cowley watched the film with a Tutsi survivor who claimed the film caused her to weep and have nightmares.
Denby, David. "High Rollers; ‘The Aviator,' ‘Million Dollar Baby,' ‘Hotel Rwanda.' " New Yorker 20 December, 2004. http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2004/12/20/041220crci_cinema
Denby focuses on Paul Rusesabagina. While fascinated by the film's convincing horrors, it is the "true story of a brave and wily man who never made a speech or indulged an instant of stiff-backed righteousness" that makes the film. Rusesabagina humanizes the effect of the genocide.
Ebert, Roger. "Hotel Rwanda." Chicago Sun-Times 22 December 2004. http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20041221/REVIEWS/41213001/1023
Ebert, like other critics, emphasizes the crucial choice of the filmmakers to focus on the inspirational story of Paul Rusesabagina and Colonel Oliver to depict the realities of the Rwandan genocide. Ebert is one of a few critics to highlight Nick Nolte's performance, describing it as a "key" to the success of the film. The film is not successful because of superficial effects but by the strength of the story. "The film works not because the screen is filled with meaningless special effects, formless action and vast digital armies, but because Cheadle, Nolte and the filmmakers are interested in how two men choose to function in an impossible situation. Because we sympathize with these men, we are moved by the film." Ebert is moved because the leading characters are not sad yet "good."
English, Bella. "'Ordinary Man' Recounts Extraordinary Actions." Boston Globe 17 April 2006. http://www.boston.com/ae/books/articles/2006/04/17/ordinary_man_recounts_extraordinary_actions/
Review of the book, which came out after the movie: "In his new memoir, 'An Ordinary Man,' Rusesabagina (who wryly remarks that he is not nearly ''as good looking" as Cheadle) fleshes out the Hollywood version with accounts of his rural childhood, seminary days, career as the first Rwandan manager of a European hotel, and his life since the genocide. He weaves the country's history with his personal history into a rich narrative that attempts to explain the unexplainable." Comparing the book and movie: "Contrary to the movie version of events, Rusesabagina and his wife, who both lost close relatives in the slaughter, stayed on for two more years in Kigali; he reopened the hotel a month after the killings stopped. But death threats ultimately forced them to flee to a new life in Brussels. From afar, he weeps for his country's past, and fears for its future.
French, Philip. "Schindler in Rwanda." The Observer 26 February 2005. http://www.theguardian.com/film/2005/feb/27/philipfrench
French puts Hotel Rwanda in the category of movies that center on exceptional individuals rather than the tragedy and which "enable mainstream cinema to confront social and historical situations in their full complexity." Occasional explanatory dialogues almost too obviously serve the purpose of background information. However, he recognizes that the film had no choice but to end on a note of hope and freedom in order to "avoid the essential tragedy it deals with in the cause of asserting the indomitability of mankind."
Harrow, Kenneth W. "'Un train peut en cacher un autre': Narrating the Rwandan Genocide and Hotel Rwanda." Research in African Literatures 36.4 (2005): 223-32.
Harrow uses the historic chronology of Rwanda to illustrate that the genocide was not just an "exception" but a product of history. He argues that Hotel Rwanda, however, is part of a body of "counternarratives" that have constructed a narrative of genocide that reinforces the fact that it is an exception. He uses scenes from the film to highlight how Hotel Rwanda portrays a simplistic representation of the Hutu and Tutsi identities that do not accurately reflect history. He wonders if films like Hotel Rwanda "have served to keep us from making the connection to world globalized conditions in which the accountability of non-Africans is often occluded." With this suspicion, he advocates for a change in construction of narratives to explain genocide as "linked to the world globalized economic and political structure replicated in various places around the world" rather than an exception.
Holden, Stephen. "Holding a Moral Center as Civilization Fell." New York Times 22 December 2004. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C02E7DC1030F931A15751C1A9629C8B63
Holden's review heralds the film for creating awareness about the Rwandan genocide for Western cultures. He notes the Western disbelief of the atrocities in Rwanda and seems to encourage Westerners to take action against them. Holden compares the Rwandan genocide and Germany's holocaust, describing the Rwandan genocide as unique in its "spirit of mad jubilation." The violence in Hotel Rwanda is dramatically downplayed, yet Holden believes this does not detract from the value of the film on the whole. As a result of the daunting challenge to depict the history of the Hutu-Tutsi conflict, the film's portrayal of history is "cursory." Still, Holden is not too critical and acknowledges the challenge to incorporate this expansive history into film. Finally, he criticizes the "excessive" dramatization of the "sentimental" aspects, condoning in a patronizing tone this sentimentality that he attributes to the film industry in general.
Hornaday, Ann. "Room at the Inn; 'Hotel Rwanda' Heralds the Triumph of One Man's Decency." Washington Post 7 January 2005. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A55029-2005Jan6.html
Hornaday's review is overwhelmingly positive and praises Hotel Rwanda's ability to transmit a humanitarian message without instilling unproductive feelings of guilt in its viewers. She reveres director Terry George's ability to construct a story about an ordinary man into a "gripping" entertainment. There's a perfect balance between Paul Rusesabagina's personal narrative and the historic events of the genocide. Hornaday's observations provide a contrast to Holden's review, in that she considers the violence and gore to be "seemingly endless" as opposed to Holden's claim that it is understated. She compliments the style and length of the scenes, which, she states, are articulate, precise, and entertaining as opposed to long and drawn out. Hotel Rwanda presents this inhumane history with hope rather than helplessness
James, Caryn. "Turning African Danger into Safe Entertainment." New York Times 21 September, 2005. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/21/movies/21war.html
James focuses not on the quality of the acting or story line but on the morality of making the Rwandan genocide a feature film, calling it "easy-to-swallow entertainment." Using Africa as a subject is some sort of fad for Hollywood, making the film seem a bit insensitive. Americans are distanced enough to be unalarmed by the tragedy, which somehow serves as a justification for attracting a theater audience. Instead of responding to the movie with utter outcry, we are "prodded to feel saddened by the loss, guilty about the lack of American intervention and, above all, soothingly enlightened that today they know better." The uplifting ending supports her theory, as it clings to a "safe movie formula."
Leibowittz, Ed. "The Genocide and the Box Office: Africa's Sequel." New York Times 10 April, 2005. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9E01E5D91F3FF933A25757C0A9639C8B63
Leibowitz considers how Hotel Rwanda will effect future generations of filmmakers and their decision to use the history of Africa as a subject. Prior to movies such as this, movies set in Africa have typically featured white, adventurous heroes in deserts or jungles. Many believe that these storylines will attract mainstream audiences, an important factor in using riskier African subjects. Director Terry George says that "you couldn't get a film made about Africa that didn't involve animals or white people trying to escape." However, post-Hotel Rwanda Hollywood seems to be making an effort in driving away from these routine Africa-based films as sensitivity comes more into play.
Nzabatsinda, Anthere. "Hotel Rwanda." Research in African Literatures 36.4 (2005): 233-36.
Nzabatsinda argues that Hotel Rwanda's success is creating a fictional story applied to the history of the Rwandan genocide. He believes the film succeeded in establishing a balance between this fiction and the "a quasi-journalistic portrayal of historic events." However, I believe Nzabatsinda gives too much credit to Terry George as well as the audience's ability to clearly label the film fictional. Nzabatsinda inaccurately portrays the historic detail that Hotel Rwanda's includes, as he describes the scenes of the movie based on his knowledge on Rwanda's history rather than just what he observed from the film. Nzabatsinda's account also notes the film's ability to portray "the heroism of the individuals who won over brutality." However, despite Rusesabagina's heroic and significant efforts, individuals did not win over brutality in the Rwandan genocide. Finally, although he is able to identify the fictional elements to the film, I do not believe most audiences will have such a keen eye, and will instead associate this film with a near-perfect representation of both Rusesabagina's life as well as the genocide.
Rickey, Carrie. "Running a hotel, and a refuge from death." Philadelphia Inquirer 7 January 2005. http://www.philly.com/philly/entertainment/movies/16114562.html
Rickey notes Don Cheadle's impressive performance and commends Hotel Rwanda's focus on one man's courage and composure to help his countrymen one act at a time. Hotel Rwanda is a "gut-punch of a drama" that sends an emotionally powerful message to the audience. Rickey rejects other critics' comparison of Hotel Rwanda to Schindler's List, claiming that Rwanda is not inspirational; rather, she believes it more similar to the "procedural" style of The Killing Fields. Rickey compliments Rwanda for not trying to dissect the genocide but, instead, focusing on the acts of Paul Rusesabagina, a common man who rises beyond the call of duty.
"Rwanda; Why All This Fuss Over 'Hotel Rwanda'?" [The Nation] Africa News 5 April 2008.
The Nation, a newsletter from Africa News, sees Hotel Rwanda as just another Hollywood film that misrepresents history. Unlike many other critics who have praised Paul Rusesabagina's real life accomplishments and also Don Cheadle's performance, The Nation instead qualifies Rusesabagina's "real-life hero" actions by quoting a claim that Rusesabagina was actually a man with "political and manipulative interests." The Nation describes Hotel Rwanda as a pawn in Hollywood's schematic and manipulative structure that manipulates history to arrive at an intended need: "Hotel Rwanda is just an installment in this raging catalogue of calculated deception." The Nation agrees with historian Bettany Hughes that "Hollywood has committed some terrible crimes against history," and Hotel Rwanda is part of this canon.
Torchin, Leshu. "Hotel Rwanda." Cineaste 30.2 (2005): 46-48.
"What does an audience seek in a film about genocide? Are viewers looking for a political thriller or an uplifting tale of moral goodness to best dramatize the social suffering and the failure of humanity that occur in these real-life crises? Estheticization seems at odds with the cruelty of the events defining genocide, and moral goodness remains irreconcilable with either this massive crime or the inaction of its witnesses. Director and cowriter (with Keir Pearson) Terry George negotiates this difficult terrain in 'Hotel Rwanda'."
Wilmington, Michael. "Movie review: 'Hotel Rwanda'" Chicago Tribune 20 December 2004. http://chicago.metromix.com/movies/review/movie-review-hotel-rwanda/159342/content
Wilmington's praises Hotel Rwanda's ability to create a "riveting ground-zero look at a terrible slice of history" even without interesting visual effects. Wilmington appreciates how the film's form mirrors its clear message. "‘Hotel Rwanda' is not a striking film visually. It's deliberately plain looking, focused on the appalling events with an almost documentary immediacy." He claims the effect is intentional, contributing to the overall mood of the film. He is also critical of the fictional feel of the "slightly sentimental ending," but, despite this, he credits its real emotion. Like other critics, Wilmington praises Cheadle's performance and states that his "convincing" portrayal of Paul Rusesabagina allows the audience to empathize with the genocide.

See Also

Kirkland, Bruce. "Heartbreak Hotel; Movie Docs Examine the Horror of Rwandan Genocide." Toronto Sun 11 April 2005: 45.

"PanAfrica; Hotel Rwanda Challenges Africa." [The East African] Africa News 14 March 2005.

Ronge, Barry. "In the eye of the storm." Sunday Times (South Africa) 12 June 2005: 42.