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‘Hotel Mumbai’ (review)


Produced by Basil Iwanyk, Gary Hamilton,
Andrew Ogilvie, Jomon Thomas,
Mike Gabrawy, Julie Ryan
Screenplay by John Collee and Anthony Maras
Based on Surviving Mumbai
by Victoria Midwinter Pitt
Directed by Anthony Maras
Starring Dev Patel, Armie Hammer,
Nazanin Boniadi, Tilda Cobham-Hervey,
Anupam Kher, Jason Isaacs, Alex Pinder

 

This unbelievably harrowing account of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks is a painfully real you-are-there nightmare, where you feel every single shot, every single death.

Hotel Mumbai is a devastating real-time representation of the several days of terror rained down by a group of small extremists that paralyzed an entire nation.

It’s not the first movie made about the attacks, which included the siege of the historic Taj Hotel, but it is the first Western feature film about them.

The first 20 minutes or so sets up the characters, including Dev Patel as a waiter who risks his life to protect the guests of the hotel, but once the shooting and bombing starts, the movie (which is just over 2 hours) is relentless. In the hotel, where the paltry police force is unable to gain entry, the bodies of the slain are left where they fell for several days … it’s beyond brutal.

It’s an incredibly well-made film, but I can’t imagine there’s much of a market right now for a movie that feels like you’re also being held hostage by gun-toting terrorists. It’s hard to imagine watching this without wanting to step in to help – or walk out of the theater completely.

I saw this before the Christchurch, New Zealand shooting and was shattered. I understand the film has been since pulled from release in New Zealand. It’s a hard sell to anyone who’s ever survived any kind of gun violence, which is, increasingly, a shockingly large percentage of the global population.

Kudos to the filmmakers and the actors for making this feel so real. But I can’t overstate how excruciating it was to sit through, even as someone who’s never witnessed anything like this in person.

I’ll admit to being horrified at a headline (written before the Christchurch shooting) that called the film a “crowd-pleaser.” I can’t begin to regard this, as well made as it is, as mere “entertainment.”

Why make a movie about these horrible attacks? Why make a movie about any real-life tragedy? The short answer: The same reason there are so many movies about the Holocaust – to honor the victims and those who risked their lives to save the survivors.

There is, however, more than the utter horror of the real-life events to take away from the film. There’s a scene after the attacks have begun where Patel explains to a jittery white guest who suspects he’s “one of them” what his Sikh turban means and how upsetting it would be to him to take it off.

And that, despite what it means to him, he will remove it if it makes her more comfortable.

When he does later remove it to help an injured guest who’s bleeding to death, it’s a stunning, heart-rending moment.

His character, like Armie Hammer’s rather clueless American tourist and his Indian wife (Nazanin Boniadi), are amalgams of real-life people who underwent these brutal attacks. That doesn’t take away from what their characters endure, but it does mess with your expectations of who lives and who dies.

Also excellent: Jason Isaacs as a boorish Russian VIP who shows valor under pressure and Anupam Kher (whom you know from everything from Bend it Like Beckham to The Big Sick) as the hotel’s authoritarian head chef, who becomes the de facto voice of reason during the crisis.

While I agree this is very well-made film, I do question the decision to show several scenes, including the opening scene, from the terrorists’ perspective.

I would have no problem with an awards campaign for Patel, who was Oscar-nominated for Lion. But it’s hard to imagine many of the people who decide those awards will want to sit through this.

Having avoided most real-life-disaster films such as Patriots Day, Deepwater Horizon and anything related to 9/11, I found this film to be so devastating, it made me rethink cinematic violence altogether.

As someone who loves action movies, it made me want to take a break from them. And from faithfully recreated real-life tragedies.

If they bring awareness and insight, then more’s the power. If they are just “entertainment,” then they have failed.

I’m sure I will be back, soon enough, to enjoying merely entertaining, escapist films.

There’s something to be said for films that remind us of the very real horror that happens in the world every day, but they can never, ever be considered “entertainment.”

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

 

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