“Hotel Mumbai” A Story Based On True Events That Are Depicted So Harrowingly Real It Will Be Too Heavy For Most Viewers.
Films based on true stories and acts of heroism will always be depicted in films. It’s not only a history lesson of world events, it also gives the heroes who risked their lives a chance to be recognized and saluted. There is no one better to translate and blend real massacre with real heroism, the way actor and director Peter Berg does, just see his heroism trilogy: “Lone Survivor”, “Deepwater Horizon” and his best of the three “Patriots Day”. Not since Peter Berg’s “Patriots Day” have we had such a harrowingly real, excruciatingly tense, ultra violent and emotionally rough viewing experience quite like “Hotel Mumbai”.
“Hotel Mumbai” shows some of the worst behaviour in a human, but it also shows what we are capable of with love, bravery, heroism, and humanity. “Hotel Mumbai” can be and will be to a lot of people, too heavy of a viewing experience. Underneath all of that “Hotel Mumbai” is well-made, excruciatingly real, intensely white knuckle gripping, impressively staged, unfiltered and so shockingly visceral that you have to wonder why anyone would want to sit through it?
“Hotel Mumbai” focuses on the Mumbai attacks that took place in November 2008. The attacks transpired over a four-day period in a half-dozen locations in Mumbai, anywhere from a railway station to a movie theater to a Jewish community. In it’s two hour running time, we see glimpses of the scope of the siege, but the central story is centered at the luxurious, storied and landmark Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.
As the film opens we see groups of terrorists arriving by rafts, they all have ear pieces on as they listen to a grotesque pep talk from their leader who cares to spare zero lives. He is so evil he has them keep the ear piece on as they gun down innocent civilians because he wants to hear their cries and screams. He exhorts them to carry out their mission, because they believe in Allah and constantly chant “God is great” after each kill. Their leader’s sick and twisted mindset is nobody in this city deserves to live. The snippets of these transmissions, are based on actual communications made through the terrorist group, making it even more bone chilling. Although it doesn’t make them any more sympathetic, nor should we feel sympathy for them or even give them a pass, but we see that their are flashes of doubt and uncertainty in the eyes of some of these Jihadists.
At the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, everything is catered to your liking, preferences or wants. As head chef Hemant (Anupam Kher) explains to his staff that “Guests are God”. It’s here at the posh and beautifully appointed Taj Hotel, that we meet waiter Arjun (“Slumdog Millionaire’s” Dev Patel), a local man with a family; Arjun’s boss as mentioned prior, the head chef Hemant; a newlywed couple (“Lone Ranger’s” Armie Hammer and Nazanin Boniadi) with an infant; their Nanny (Tilda Cobham Hervey) and a wealthy, orgy seeking Russian oligarch (Jason Issacs “Star Trek Discovery”).
Just as everyone is settling into an evening of Mumbai’s finest dining at the hotel restaurant. The hotel is over run by terrorists wielding AK-47s who start randomly firing away, killing at will. They shoot 3-5 times making sure everyone is lifeless. When word comes that military special forces are hours away (the closest tactical force being in Delhi, which takes 24hours by car). The surviving staffers and guests desperately try to remain hidden as long as they can in a specially hidden corporate vip lounge and try to keep a step ahead of the terrorists.
Director and co-writer Anthony Maras, employs a real-life tragedy as the foundation for an action-drama. When this approach is taken it becomes a delicate balancing act. While there is no doubt the filmmakers want to be respectful and honor the heroics without gratuitously exploiting all of the bloodshed. Maras “Hotel Mumbai” veers dangerously to becoming almost sadistically realistic in its depiction of the young Jihadi killers from Pakistan carrying out the executions.
The slaughter is brutal, and Maras holds nothing back in showing the killings. Young, old, men and women who are all gunned down by a handful of young extremists who see their victims as less than human. Anthony Maras attempts to convey as many points of views as possible. Including two brave police officers only equipped with one hand gun each who are desperate to help and risk their lives trying to infiltrate the hotel, instead of being forced to stand by for hours waiting for the tactical team to arrive.
“Hotel Mumbai” is filled with stellar performances from a top-tier cast. Biggest praise goes to “Slumdog Millionaire” star Dev Patel, who gives an excellent performance and can hold up his own against American actors Armie Hammer and Jason Issacs. Patel is an actor with an uncanny ability to connect with viewers regardless of the role he is in. His character Arjun’s struggle finds him facing discrimination from the very people he has risked his life to protect. It’s an interesting aspect of the story that is needed for exploration and I wish Maras had spent more time to commit to.
Maras gives into the demands of a big Hollywood action-thriller. One of the subplots involves David (Armie Hammer) and Zahara’s nanny as she tries to quiet their screaming baby. All I could think was I hope this Nanny gets paid really well because the whole time she played protector to their child. Screenwriters John Collee and Anthony Maras attempt to humanize the terrorists by revealing their dire financial circumstances. Not sure if we supposed to feel bad for them because they’re poor? Even though we’ve just watched them murder dozens of people in cold blood. If the point is to make us think about their situation that’s fine, but it’s probably best if we were given more time to spend on that question.
Over the course of it’s 2 hour running time, the rising body count and Maras’ visceral portrayal will become too much to handle and unpleasant that will leave some of the audience feeling numb. Maras and his cinematographer, Nick Remy Matthews, render the shootings in a jagged edged realism.
“Hotel Mumbai” is a chilling and valuable reminder of acts of madness and heroism that should never be forgotten. “Hotel Mumbai” is harrowing and unflinching in its depiction of violence, but there’s no denying the gripping tension and the heroism it aims to celebrate. The hotel staff are deserving of our attention, they saved the lives of their clients regardless of race, religion or concern for their own lives. Now that is a person with heart. That is heroism.
GRADE: ★★★★☆ (4 out of 5)