It's a sad state of affairs when it takes a movie to teach the general public about a horrendous catastrophe that occurred just a few years earlier. THE KILLING FIELDS (1984) brought the horror of Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge to much of the world, and this powerful chronicle of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, during which an estimated one million people were...read more
It's a sad state of affairs when it takes a movie to teach the general public about a horrendous catastrophe that occurred just a few years earlier. THE KILLING FIELDS (1984) brought the horror of Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge to much of the world, and this powerful chronicle of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, during which an estimated one million people were murdered in a matter of months, intends to do the same. Kigali, Rwanda, 1994. After decades of provocation by Belgian colonists, tensions between Rwanda's once-favored ethnic minority, the Tutsis, and the resentful Hutu majority reach a murderous pitch. Uncontrollable bands of Hutu militiamen violently harass Tutsis and the airwaves hum with explicit exhortations from Hutu-Power figures to destroy the Tutsi "cockroaches." And Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle), the Hutu house manager of the Belgian-owned Hotel Milles Collines, is doing his best to make sure his establishment remains "an oasis of calm" in all the madness. Paul is nervous for his Tutsi wife, Tatiana (Sophie Okonedo), and their children, but has faith in the presence of UN officials like Colonel Oliver (Nick Nolte) and members of the foreign press (David O'Hara, Joaquin Phoenix). Nothing too terrible can happen if the rest of the world is watching, can it? But after the president is assassinated and the systematic massacre of every Tutsi man, woman and child begins in earnest, Paul finds that the UN is only there to observe, and the rest of the world isn't bothering to watch at all. As the West turns its back on Rwanda and Paul's four-star hotel becomes a refugee camp, he's forced to use what little is left at his disposal to keep his terrified "guests" alive. Aside from a few nightmarish moments, director Terry George keeps the carnage to a minimum, and that's probably just as well. As journalist Philip Gourevitch wrote, the horror of the genocide was "uncircumscribable." What the film does adequately recount is the burden of responsibility Belgium must bear for stoking the murderous animosity; France's failure to exert its control over the Hutu army; and the U.S. State Department's craven refusal to use the word "genocide" in order to avoid sending help. The film touches on all this, but best of all, it celebrates Rusesabagina, an ordinary man who wound up sheltering an astonishing 1268 Tutsi and Hutu refugees. It's a great part for a great actor and Cheadle does a magnificent job turning this living legend back into flesh-and-blood reality.
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