Whilst describing Hotel Mumbai as a thriller isn’t inaccurate given how masterfully intense director Anthony Maras’s film ultimately is, there’s something a little awkward in labelling a real-life horror account that claimed countless lives in such conventional terms. Similarly, how does one brand this as a form of entertainment with the horrid events of the Indian terrorist attack still relatively fresh in many minds; it was only a mere decade ago that this tragedy unfolded. However best to handle such a controversial event, the Australian filmmaker Maras has done so with the utmost respect, empathy and care.
Though the siege at the centre of the story is still very much Hotel Mumbai‘s focus, Maras’s decision to create an ensemble piece allows the plot to form multiple arcs so that it’s equally distributed amongst the hotel’s guests and waitstaff trapped inside, the policemen outside on the scene, and the terrorists themselves who Maras doesn’t entirely paint in a strictly villainous light. And given that there is such a vast array of characters that all earn focus, Maras meticulously keeps each plot string alarmingly tight, switching between characters whilst maintaining a sense of tension that is near unbearable.
As for the characters on hand, Dev Patel’s hotel staff member Arjun, Jason Isaac’s arrogant Russian businessman, Armie Hammer and Nazanin Boniadi’s new parents, and Anupam Kher’s head chef earn bragging rights as Hotel Mumbai’s lead focus points. Each talent is given their moment to shine, though the film does amp up its emotional factor by pursuing both Patel and Hammer’s individual strands; the fact that Hammer’s newborn son is separated from him and his wife allows the film to tap into our paternal fears, thankfully never completely exploiting that notion.
One of Hotel Mumbai‘s bravest additives is its choice to somewhat humanise the terrorists. Now, this isn’t Maras going out of his way to sway his audience into evoking any type of sympathy for them, but he excels in highlighting the contradictory nature of their manner. Scenes where the men brutally gun down an innocent women to only then joke around regarding the ingredients of a stray pizza they find on an abandoned food cart certainly presents a confusing tone, but you believe that these men believe in a higher cause, so why shouldn’t they be allowed a moment of levity? It’s a bold decision, but it’s one based in truth, and Hotel Mumbai certainly strives for that.
Apart from a few heroic gestures regarding Isaac’s brazen businessman, Hotel Mumbai does away with any of the typical Hollywood trope that a film of this ilk could attempt. Instead it aims for humanity, and it’s in that temperament that the film is likely to stand as one of the year’s finest.
About Hotel Mumbai
HOTEL MUMBAI is based on the true story of the devastating terrorist attack on the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in 2008. The terrifying assault brings together the guests and staff of the luxurious hotel including wealthy new parents David and Zahra (Armie Hammer and Nazanin Boniadi), Russian businessman Vasili (Jason Issacs) and newly promoted waiter Arjun (Dev Patel) in a desperate fight for survival. This story celebrates humanity, compassion, courage, resilience and the unwavering desire to survive.
Hotel Mumbai (MA15+) is screening in Australian theatres from March 14th 2019.