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Hotel Mumbai (Dev Patel/Armie Hammer) - Review

Hotel Mumbai

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

THE November 2008 attack on Mumbai’s Taj Mahal hotel forms the basis for Australian director Anthony Maras’s brutal Hotel Mumbai, a nerve-shredding, hard-hitting account of the atrocity told from the point of view of both the perpetrators and their victims.

Adopting a Paul Greengrass-style approach to the events, Maras’s film is a ruthless depiction of how – over a three day-period – ten Pakistani terrorists (members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, an Islamic terror organisation) virtually took over the city [12 locations] and went on a killing spree that left at least 174 dead and countless others injured.

What ensues is an unflinching, often breathless film that highlights the callousness of modern terrorism and the randomness of who survives and who doesn’t.

Maras opts to use real-life news footage of the incident to heighten the authenticity, yet turns most of the principal players into fictionalised characters, or composites of real-people… but even so, maintains that all of what happens on-screen did, in fact, take place.

For instance, Dev Patel’s character, Arjun, is based on both a real-life waiter and an unarmed security guard, whose actions throughout the film are true (the security guard did manage to escort a pair of police officers to the hotel’s CCTV room).

While the likes of affluent newlyweds Zahra (Nazanin Boniadi) and David (Armie Hammer) and Russian businessman Vasili (Jason Isaacs) are also fictionalised, although their traits are based on real people and real events.

It’s in the depiction of some of these characters that the movie sometimes stumbles, with the screenplay – co-written by John Collee and Maras – sometimes feeling like its reducing certain characters to stereotypes, with movie typical story arcs. Isaac’s Vasili is particularly prone to this… his journey from lecherous businessman to caring potential hero a fairly generic one.

That said, the film’s depiction of Chef Hemant Oberoi (played by Anupam Kher) and the terrorists themselves – all of whom are real – feels surprisingly more rounded, offering direct insight into one of the biggest heroes of the atrocity, as well as some indication of how the terrorists themselves came to be (young, desperate men who allowed themselves to be brainwashed).

Crucially, Hotel Mumbai never seeks to sensationalise any of the events, or to rationalise any of the actions or ideologies… allowing the cold-hearted depiction of the many atrocities to speak for themselves. Hence, whenever a gun does go off and bullets cut someone down, you feel a jolt of cold horror as you realise just how indiscriminate and lethal these killers were.

This, in turn, also makes the acts of heroism and sacrifice (mostly by the hotel staff) all the more remarkable, while putting a more real spin on proceedings. There’s no white saviour complex on display, while brief moments of hope (where heroism rears its head in last-ditch moments) are extinguished quickly and ruthlessly.

If Hotel Mumbai sometimes feels like an ordeal, then it has undoubtedly done its job. It should. This is an unsparing depiction of the nightmare of modern terrorism that also exposes the complexity of dealing with it. There are no easy answers. Yet its effects are devastating and long-lasting.

And it’s this sense of fear, combined with courage among the desperation, that informs the performances and makes them so convincing, with the likes of Kher, Patel, Hammer and Boniadi all registering strongly, and lending humanity to an inhuman situation.

The terrorists, meanwhile, contribute in their own haunting way, underlining their own desperation and naivety, while leaving viewers in no doubt as to the complete evil at play.

Hotel Mumbai isn’t an easy film to watch or to like. But it is a brutally efficient account of some horrible events that paint a grim reality for those with their eyes and ears on the volatile instability of our current world.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 2hrs 2mins
UK Release Date: September 27, 2019.
The film is also exclusively available to Sky customers on Sky Box Office now