Movie Review: Hotel Mumbai

Hotel Mumbai is a recreation of the 2008 tragedy at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in India, based on the documentary Surviving Mumbai. Going to great lengths to interview witnesses and piece together events of the fateful night, director Anthony Maras has composed a heart-wrenching film of urgency and brutality. This is an action drama thriller and doesn’t shy away from representing a hellish night and many violent deaths as if you were living through the eyes of the survivors. As is this case with many event-based films, there’s a tendency to hold back from the terror to present a safer and more subtle version of history. Hotel Mumbai doesn’t hold back, ratcheting up the suspense and realism to offer an uncomfortably vicarious cinematic experience.

A fine ensemble of acting talents including Dev Patel, Armie Hammer, Nazanin Boniadi, Anupam Kher, Jason Isaacs and Tilda Cobham-Hervey pull together to anchor this film in reality. Dev Patel delivers a relatable and likeable turn as Arjun, a hotel employee who very nearly wasn’t subjected to the situation, taking matters into his hands as things worsen. He’s essentially taking the Mark Wahlberg role if this were Patriot’s Day, giving a heroic insider’s account of events as they unfold. Both films cover shocking true stories surrounding terrorist events, although Hotel Mumbai’s body count and level of brutality is more in line with Olympus Has Fallen.

Hotel Mumbai has the same naming convention as Hotel Rwanda, possibly giving audiences an idea of just how intense, distressing and realistic the film is aiming to be. Adopting a similar style to Beirut, this is an eye-opening account of several truly terrifying hours through the city of Mumbai. Much like terrorist actions of today, a strange familiarity is brought to bear by the horror of actually being in the situation, instead of simply seeing shocking images framed by news channel reports. While the brutality on display is harrowing, this film serves as a tribute to the brave staff, guest and civil servants who went beyond the call of duty.

Hotel Mumbai

“We’re all in this together…”

As you’ve gathered, it’s not for everyone, will definitely raise the dopamine levels and doesn’t shy away from graphic violence. Yet, there’s no denying the craft. Good pacing, elegant editing and beautiful cinematography make this a technically sound film, aided by performances that capture a spectrum of negative emotional states. Filmed in Adelaide, this is just testament to the production design, which makes you think they somehow managed to convince the hotel to shoot the film on the actual site. Ornate backdrops, palatial reception foyers and accurate casting make every scene seem like they were in Mumbai itself, although in fairness most Taj hotels do carry a signature palatial style.

While the bold recreation doesn’t have a clearly defined message, it’s an immersive and terrifying experience that demonstrates how suddenly things can spiral out of control. Unpredictable and disturbing, the traditional Hollywood hero doesn’t rise up to save the day as in Skyscraper. It’s the ordinary, humble person who takes action when the opportunity arises that wins the day, using evasive tactics instead of countering violence with violence. Perhaps this is the message behind Hotel Mumbai.

While a fairly straightforward retelling, the situational drama is amplified by a more progressive take on some of the gunmen, wealthy diplomats staff members. While the chaotic emergency is always the primary focus and the relentless energy and emotion compel the story, Maras doesn’t make enough time for us to truly connect with the characters. Leaning on their performances to syphon the essence of the characters, fleeting and less chaotic moments are when we play catch up. While a challenge, it somehow manages to reach the light at the end of the tunnel, leaving on a surprisingly hopeful and touching note.

The bottom line: Harrowing