The film was a co-production between United Artists and Lions Gate Films. It was commercially distributed by United Artists theatrically and by MGM Home Entertainment for home media. As an independent film, it had an initial limited release in theatres; but it was nominated for multiple awards, including Academy Award nominations for Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Original Screenplay. The film also won a number of awards including those from the Berlin and Toronto International Film Festivals. On 11 January 2005, the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack was released by the Commotion label. It features songs written by several recording artists including Wyclef Jean and Deborah Cox. The film score was composed by Rupert Gregson-Williams, Andrea Guerra, and the Afro Celt Sound System.
Tensions between the Hutu and Tutsi peoples lead to a civil war in Rwanda, where corruption and bribes between politicians are routine. Paul Rusesabagina (Cheadle), the manager of the Sabena owned Hôtel des Mille Collines, is Hutu, but his wife Tatiana (Okonedo), is Tutsi. His marriage is a source of friction with Hutu extremists, most especially Georges Rutaganda (Kae-Kazim), a friendly goods supplier to the hotel who is also the local leader of Interahamwe, a brutal Hutu militia.
As the political situation in the country worsens following the assassination of the president, Paul and his family observe neighbours being killed, initiating the early stages of the genocide. Paul curries favour with people of influence, bribing them with money and alcohol, seeking to maintain sufficient influence to keep his family safe. When civil war erupts and a Rwandan Army officer threatens Paul and his neighbours, Paul barely negotiates their safety, bringing them to the hotel. More evacuees arrive at the hotel from the overburdened UN refugee camp, the Red Cross and various orphanages. As the situation becomes more violent, Paul must divert the Hutu soldiers, care for the refugees, be a source of strength for his family and maintain the appearance of a functioning hotel. Paul drives to Georges Rutaganda (Vice-president of the Interahamwe) to collect his supplies for the hotel. He witnesses Tutsi hostages being treated violently by the Hutu militia. Georges explains to Paul that the "rich cockroachs'" money is going to be valueless because all of the Tutsis will be dead. Paul doesn't believe that the Hutu extremists will wipe out all of the Tutsis. Georges replies "Why not, we are halfway there already." With a driver, Paul returns to the hotel through thick fog in the dark on a road that Georges recommends. At one point, Paul believes they have taken the wrong road and tells the driver to stop. When Paul goes outside, he sees the riverside road is full of bodies. He realises that Georges was correct in his estimation that half the Tutsis are already dead.
The UN peacekeeping forces, led by Canadian Colonel Oliver (Nolte), are unable to take assertive action against the Interahamwe because they are forbidden to intervene in the conflict and prevent the genocide. The foreign nationals are evacuated, but the Rwandans are left behind. When the UN forces attempt to evacuate a group of refugees, including Paul's family, they are ambushed and must turn back. In a last-ditch effort to save the refugees, Paul pleads with the Rwandan army general, Augustin Bizimungu (Mokoena) for assistance. However, when Paul's bribes no longer work, he blackmails the general with threats of him being tried as a war criminal if he doesn't help. Soon after, the family and the hotel refugees are finally able to leave the besieged hotel in a UN convoy. They travel through retreating masses of refugees and militia to reach safety behind Tutsi rebel lines.
The film's epilogue includes details in the credits of the number of Rwandan refugees at the Hôtel des Mille Collines that Rusesabagina saved (1,268), and that he now lives in Belgium with his family. It also notes that Rutaganda and General Bizimungu were tried and convicted by the UN for war crimes in 2002, while also adding that the genocide that ended in July 1994 left almost a million people dead.Don Cheadle as Paul Rusesabagina
Sophie Okonedo as Tatiana Rusesabagina
Nick Nolte as Colonel Oliver (based on Roméo Dallaire)
Joaquin Phoenix as Jack Daglish
Fana Mokoena as General Augustin Bizimungu
Cara Seymour as Pat Archer
Jean Reno as Sabena Airlines President Mr. Tillens (uncredited)
Tony Kgoroge as Gregoire
Desmond Dube as Dube
Hakeem Kae-Kazim as Georges Rutaganda
Leleti Khumalo as Fedens
Antonio Lyons as Thomas Mirama
The film is set in 1994 during the Rwandan Genocide, in which an estimated 800,000 people, mainly Tutsi, were killed by Hutu extremists. During that year, Rwanda's population of seven million was composed of two major groups: Hutu (approximately 85%), and Tutsi (14%). In the early 1990s, Hutu extremists within Rwanda's political elite blamed the entire Tutsi minority population for the country's economic and political problems. Tutsi civilians were also accused of supporting a Tutsi-dominated rebel group, the Rwandan Patriotic Front.
On 6 April 1994, a plane carrying President Juvénal Habyarimana, a Hutu, was shot down. Following that incident, the genocide began. Hutu extremists belonging to the Interahamwe militia launched plans to destroy the entire Tutsi civilian population. Tutsi and people suspected of being Tutsi were killed in their homes and as they tried to flee the country. It is estimated that some 200,000 people participated in the perpetration of the Rwandan genocide. Hotelier Paul Rusesabagina of the Belgian owned luxury Hôtel des Mille Collines, used his power and influence to personally save both Tutsi and Hutu refugees. Rusesabagina regularly bribed Rwandan Hutu soldiers and kept militias outside the hotel's property during the hundred days of killing. Following the carnage, Rusesabagina survived along with his wife, four children, two adopted nieces; as well as most of the refugees he sheltered.
Sharing his thoughts about the lack of international intervention during the crisis, director George commented, "It's simple, ... African lives are not seen as valuable as the lives of Europeans or Americans." Attempting to share the horrors of the genocide, George sought to tell the story of Rusesabagina, portrayed as a humanitarian during the relentless acts of violence. However, Rusesabagina has since come under criticism with allegations that he extorted money from hotel guests for rooms and food. It was also reported that the UN headquarters in Kigali received information that Rusesabagina had provided a Rwandan army commander with a list of hotel guests and their room numbers. UN observers managed to change the room numbers of those most threatened. The character of the Canadian Lieutenant-General is based on Senator Romeo Dallaire, now retired from the Canadian Armed Forces. He recounted his own experiences in his biography, Shake Hands with the Devil. The book was later adapted into two feature films; a documentary, and a 2007 dramatic motion picture.
Principal filming was shot on location in Kigali, Rwanda and Johannesburg, South Africa. Paul Rusesabagina was consulted during the writing of the film. Although the character of Colonel Oliver played by Nolte is fictional in nature, the role was inspired by the UN force commander for UNAMIR, Roméo Dallaire. Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni, then-Rwandan president Juvénal Habyarimana, and Rwandan Patriotic Front leader (now president) Paul Kagame appear in archive television footage in the film.
The producers of the film partnered with the United Nations Foundation to create the International Fund for Rwanda, which supported United Nations Development Programme initiatives assisting Rwandan survivors. "The goal of the film is not only to engage audiences in this story of genocide but also to inspire them to help redress the terrible devastation," said George.
The original motion picture soundtrack for Hotel Rwanda was released by the Commotion label on 11 January 2005. It features songs written by Wyclef Jean and Deborah Cox, among others. The music for the film was composed by Rupert Gregson-Williams, Andrea Guerra, and the Afro Celt Sound System, while being edited by Michael Connell.
A paperback novel published by Newmarket Press entitled Hotel Rwanda: Bringing the True Story of an African Hero to Film, was released on 7 February 2005. The book dramatises the events of the Rwandan Genocide in 1994, as depicted in the film. It expands on the ideas of how hotelier Paul Rusesabagina, sheltered and saved more than 1,200 people in the hotel he managed in Kigali. Rusesabagina's real life experience encouraged director George to produce the film. The book summarises three years of research, articles that chronicle the historical events, and the ensuing aftermath. A brief history and timeline, the making of the film, and the complete screenplay written by Keir Pearson and Terry George are covered in thorough detail.
Following its cinematic release in theatres, the film was released in VHS video format on 12 April 2005. The Region 1 Code widescreen edition of the film was also released on DVD in the United States on 12 April 2005. Special features for the DVD include; "A Message for Peace: Making Hotel Rwanda" documentary, "Return to Rwanda" documentary, Selected scenes commentary by Don Cheadle, Audio commentary by director Terry George and real-life subject of the film–Paul Rusesabagina, along with select commentary by musician Wyclef Jean. Supplementally, the Blu-ray Disc version of the film was released on 10 May 2011. The film is available in other media formats such as Video on demand as well.
Among mainstream critics in the US, the film received almost exclusively positive reviews. Rotten Tomatoes reported that 90% of 189 sampled critics gave the film a positive review, with an average score of 8 out of 10. At Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average out of 100 to critics' reviews, the film received a score of 79 based on 40 reviews.
Michael Rechtshaffen, writing in The Hollywood Reporter, said actor "Cheadle impressively carries the entire picture, delivering the kind of note-perfect performance that's absolutely deserving of Oscar consideration." Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times called it a "riveting drama", while exclaiming "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." In the San Francisco Chronicle, Mick LaSalle wrote that the film was a "harrowing experience", and that "it documents for a mass audience what it was like. It's useful, in that it shows how it can happen. It's even hopeful, in that it shows that it's possible—not guaranteed, but possible—for people to maintain their humanity in the face of unhinged barbarism." Claudia Puig of USA Today, said the film was "one of the year's most moving and powerful films, anchored by a magnificent performance by Don Cheadle." She declared, "Hotel Rwanda emerges as an African version of Schindler's List." The film however, was not without its detractors. Dave Sterrit of The Christian Science Monitor, felt that although the subject matter was crucially important, he commented that "the movie dilutes its impact with by-the-numbers filmmaking, and Cheadle's one-note performance displays few of his acting gifts." Left equally unimpressed was Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly. Commenting on the character significance of the U.N. personnel, she said it was "a bad day for narrative, if not for diplomacy, when there is only one 3-D character among the entire U.N. lot, clad in their blue helmets, and that role is rasped by Nick Nolte with moral remorse rather than his more usual hint of dissolution." In her overall summation, she wrote "Hotel Rwanda is a strange history lesson that leaves us more overlectured than properly overwhelmed." Michael Atkinson of The Village Voice, added to the negativity by saying the film was "told to us secondhand, or glimpsed in distant scuffles" and "Like the majority of movies about the last century of holocausts, Hotel Rwanda is as earnest and tasteful as its creators. To capture the white-hot terror of social calamity, someone a little more lawless and fierce might be called for."
Writing for The New York Times, Stephen Holden said the film was "a political thriller based on fact that hammers every button on the emotional console." He commended how the film "offers a devastating picture of media-driven mass murder left unchecked" while also praising "Mr. Cheadle's magnificent, understated portrayal". James Berardinelli writing for ReelViews, called the film "powerful" and noted that it didn't "pull as many punches as its detractors would have us believe." Berardinelli also said the film was "brutal and shocking when it needs to be, but it also has great emotional scope and power. We find ourselves enmeshed in Paul's struggle, sharing his despair at the warfare tearing apart his country, his frustration and anger at the U.N.'s inability to act, and, eventually, his hope for a better tomorrow." Describing some pitfalls, Jeff Vice of the Deseret News said the "decision by the filmmakers to show things from that limited viewpoint—to show how isolated and fearful the characters were of the chaos going on around them—the film feels a little dishonest and diminished. It's never quite as effective as "The Killing Fields" or "Schindler's List" in that the film's overall impact is not as great and it doesn't linger in the memory." Vice however was quick to admit "Hotel Rwanda does have its share of powerful moments; in particular, a scene in which Paul and another hotel employee unknowingly—due to fog—drive into a mass grave." He also expressed satisfaction with the acting saying, "Cheadle brings a needed intensity to the film; his character's fear and compassion are quite vivid. Nolte is also good in his limited screen time, as is Joaquin Phoenix, who plays a news cameraman."
Eleanor R. Gillespie of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, stated that Hotel Rwanda was an "unforgettable film" as well as being "a doubly unforgettable performance by Don Cheadle." Although mentioning "The parallels with Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List are obvious", she praised individual cinematic elements that made the film unique, such as "the revelation of a dark, bumpy road paved with thousands of corpses. Or in a little girl's heartwrenching plea, 'Please don't let them kill me. I promise I won't be Tutsi anymore'." She concluded her review with Cheadle's noteworthy performance, saying he gave "one of the best performances (if not the best) of last year—an Oscar-worthy portrait of a man who kept his head clear and his humanity intact in the midst of a man-made hell." Similarly, David Ansen wrote in Newsweek that "two performances carry the film. Cheadle, in his richest role since "Devil in a Blue Dress", burrows deep inside this complex man, who discovers in himself a strength he never knew he possessed, as he faces the disillusionment of all the "civilized" notions he believes in. As his strong, committed wife, Tatiana, Sophie Okonedo, barely resembling the saucy hooker she played in "Dirty Pretty Things", is a revelation." However, in the Arizona Daily Star, Phil Villarreal was not moved by the lead acting of Cheadle or Nolte. He thought the characters were "cardboardish" and went further saying the "uplifting moments of rescue seem antiseptic and set up." Critic Leonard Maltin though, wrote that Hotel Rwanda was a "Powerful film" which he thought avoided being "overly didactic by focusing on one compelling character, believably brought to life by Cheadle." In Reel Power: Hollywood Cinema and American Supremacy, drawing on the work of independent journalist Keith Harmon Snow and intellectual dissident Edward Herman, author Matthew Alford called the film "sensitive, humane and powerful" but noted that it was "striking how the history of bloodshed has been spun in line with Western interests".
The film was nominated and won several awards in 2004–06. Various critics included the film on their lists of the top 10 best films of 2004. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times named it ninth best, Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle named it eighth best, and Desson Thomson of The Washington Post named it tenth best. The film is also listed by the American Film Institute as one of the 100 most inspirational movies of all time.
The film premiered in cinemas on 22 December 2004, in limited release throughout the US During its limited opening weekend, the film grossed $100,091 in business showing at 7 locations. Its official wide release was screened in theatres on 4 February 2005. Opening in a distant 14th place, the film earned $2,316,416 showing at 823 cinemas. The film Boogeyman soundily beat its competition during that weekend opening in first place with $19,020,655. The film's revenue dropped by 11.8% in its second week of release, earning $2,043,249. For that particular weekend, the romantic comedy Hitch unseated Boogeyman to open in first place with $43,142,214 in revenue, while Hotel Rwanda remained in 14th place not challenging a top ten position. During its final weekend in release, the film opened in 62nd place grossing $23,176 in business. The film went on to top out domestically at $23,530,892 in total ticket sales through an 18-week theatrical run. Internationally, the film took in an additional $10,351,351 in box office business for a combined worldwide total of $33,882,243. For 2004 as a whole, the film would cumulatively rank at a box office performance position of 99.