With an appearance from Armie Hammer, Hotel Mumbai is a grand thriller that seems to glamorize terrorism, until it doesn’t.
Hotel Mumbai is based on true events that took place in India’s most cosmopolitan city; Mumbai. 2008, a sprawling metropolis that meets western definitions of luxury in the very same block of genuine poverty was subject to a comprehensive series of terrorist attacks, orchestrated by Pakistan-based operatives. The attacks culminated in a 3-day hold out in Mumbai’s most premier hotel, the Taj Palace. It is a story of terror and uneasy rage and loss. But it is worth witnessing once.
Director Anthony Maras’ handling of rampage is fascinating. Viewers are subject to intense, dead-pan delivery of rounds after rounds of automatic fire in the hotel. The casual energy is especially distressing. The visibility is alarming, and the viewer is annoyed and scared by the second round of rampage. It is so alarming- so damning- so depressing, that you’re relieved when a rampage seems to be over, and terrified (along with the entire hotel occupants) for when the next might happen. No film as so effectively captured the terror and raw intensity of a shootout like this.
Elaborating further, this was the first film to elicit a feeling a strange pleasure when one of the terrorists is subject to injury and another one dies. A genuine sense of deep hate came over me, and a bizarre sense of satisfaction- like he was getting what was deserved. It was unexpected but real.
But soon, we’re treated to increased understanding of the motives of the terrorism- desperate desire for glory and money to return to their families. In a heartbreaking turn, one of the terrorists phones his father after an injury, essentially resigning to his participation. Still he is vigilant, but weak.
Casting falls into the Owen-Wilson-In-Paris trope – Armie Hammer (Call Me By Your Name) plays a somewhat uncultured rich white guy married to a radiantly beautiful Muslim woman with a new baby and a nanny in tow. Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) plays a brave waiter who is at once diplomatic and emotional, living by the rule “guest is God”. The waitstaff does their best to protect guests in the hotel, even while his wife and child look on in fear. Other appearances add rich personality to the guests, including Jason Isaacs as a intense Eastern European with strong political beliefs that end up protecting others, but getting him killed. A colorful and dedicated array of hotel staff enlivens the film, bringing a glimpse of Indian hospitality to the big stage, in a way that’s less inflated than Bollywood would have it.
Oberoi (played by the great Anupam Kher) is one of the most memorable of the staff. The head chef of the restaurant, Oberoi’s confident and thoughtful personality comes through- and becomes even more real as and his uneasiness with the increasingly unknowable situation becomes evident in certain moments. As a result, we see a restauranteur trying his best outside of his area of expertise.
Without spoiling the ending, there is a rare instance of Muslim prayer that seems to hit at the core of the beliefs of the young terrorists- revealing a rift between Islam as a religion and Islam as a front, and serves as a centerpiece of the film, and the real climax. Maras approaches a lot of complex issues in his film, from stereotypes to the way Islam is used against itself.
Ultimately, Hotel Mumbai is a bold admission of the failings of the Islam religion- a failure to protect young people from coercion and lies, but also protect desperate adults, relying on uneasy tactics to improve their livelihood.
Hotel Mumbai, directed by Anthony Maras
Runtime: 2hr, 3min.
In theaters now.