What can an ordinary Rwandan hotel manager possibly do?
Plenty, as it turns out. Paul is a Hutu, but his wife, Tatiana (Sophie Okonedo), is a Tutsi, and so, by default, are their children. He is driven by a primal need to save his own family, but as the slaughter continues, more and more friends and neighbors beg him for help.
By the end, Paul shelters 1,200 people in his hotel, saving them from certain death by doing what he always has done: bribing and cajoling the Hutu powers, calling in favors, lying and outsmarting his foes.
He is the Oskar Schindler of Rwanda, a man who becomes a hero by chance and circumstance, using qualities not generally considered heroic. He's no Rambo: He's scared, and conflicted, and full of doubts. Throughout the film, you can see he'd rather just save his family and not have to shoulder this burden of heroism.
Director Terry George (SOME MOTHER'S SON) knows not to get in the way of this harrowing story, which Rusesabagina himself insisted on telling straight, without movie-ish embellishment. It's all true and, given the context, remarkably subtle. (George earned the PG-13 rating by only suggesting the terrible violence, not showing it.)
Still, as the tension builds you can't help but feel you're watching the heir to a classic Western -- perhaps the "High Noon" of modern times, or SHANE -- as this one man steps up to save the town from the marauding bad guys. Of course, he doesn't save the entire town. As with SCHINDLER'S LIST, you're left with the grim knowledge that the people Rusesabagina saved were but a tiny percentage of those who were killed. The triumph comes tempered by the greater tragedy.