On 26 November 2008, Mumbai were under siege by foreign terrorists. Brutally coordinated terrorist strikes targeted several key locations in India’s financial capital, including the magnificent Taj Mahal Hotel Palace, in which most portions of the movie take places. In portraying the horror, Hotel Mumbai, Anthony Maras’ directorial debut, presents an anti-terrorism docu-drama which often goes too far in its stance.
In Hotel Mumbai, the story follows several characters that happen to get dragged into the real-life inferno. Maras and the co-writer, John Collee’s screenplay is keen to add expositions about each of the highlighted character’s background (as if it’s a documentary, based on the account of each survivor); even when, at some points, the information isn’t relevant anymore. Separately, we are introduced to the key figures, which include Arjun (Dev Patel), an insightful hotel waiter; Mr. Oberoi (Anupam Kher), the head chef of the entire hotel’s dining venues; Zahra, a British-Iranian expat (Nazanin Boniadi) and her American husband, David (Armie Hammer) along with the nanny, Sally (Tilda Cobham-Hervey); and Vasili, a former Russian operative (Jason Isaacs). The movie solely depicts on how each character attempts to survive in this dire situation, often with the most graphic imagery and harrowing intensity.
The script often focuses on the characters’ motivation as a motor of the story. Mr. Oberoi, like most hoteliers, holds dear the credo that “guests are God.” He stands by the creed even when his life is threatened; that makes an integral juxtaposition with Arjun’s motivation. Arjun had a pregnant wife and a child to support; his only goal should be only one: getting out alive. And yet, he selflessly followed Mr. Oberoi’s creed. At the same time, Zahra and David are separated from their son, who is being looked after by Sally; and they only want to be together even if that would be the last time. Meanwhile, the gunmen aren’t without certain characterizations. While seemingly one-dimensional, there are some moments portraying their state of mind being a product of brain-washed society manipulated by religious and wealth sentiment. Hotel Mumbai tries to draw the bigger picture from those fragments, framing the criminal masterminds as the super, invisible villain.
Even when this is the directorial debut for Maras, the Australian director knows well the rifts to create an intense, survival thriller. Graphic depictions of the attack play big part in ensuring that. Nick Remy Matthews’ camera works on corner on tip of the edge to portray the survivors’ uncertainty and to give the impressions of the danger that might be lurking from their blind spots. The direction isn’t necessarily special or inventive in dramatizing the terror; however, it’s effective in delivering the tension and sympathy towards the key characters, especially with the casts’ superb performance.
Dev Patel’s portrayal of the selfless Arjun is delightful to watch; the problem is, his character is often portrayed as a saint figure more than a real, believable human being. Same goes to Anupam Kher’s Oberoi. Another thing is: the script of Hotel Mumbai is often becoming too sensationalist and borderline provocative. While the survivors are exaggeratingly portrayed as saints, the gunmen are portrayed as some poor men manipulated by the devils called Brother Bull. By doing so, the movie delivers a strong, anti-terrorism message; however, that message is often tone-deaf and stepping a bit too far from just reminding us that terrorism is an act of the devil. Hotel Mumbai, at times, gives the impression that it also corners a particular group of people; there goes the filmmaker’s bias.
Well-acted, intense and unnerving for the whole duration, this based-on-true-event survival thriller is an anti-terrorism message that often becomes too over-sensationalist. Hotel Mumbai knows its stance.
Hotel Mumbai (2019)
Drama, Thriller Directed by: Anthony Maras Written by: Anthony Maras, John Collee Starred by: Dev Patel, Armie Hammer, Nazanin Boniadi, Anupam Kher, Jason Isaacs, Tilda Cobham-Hervey Runtime: 123 mins