Courtesy of Bleecker Street
“Hotel Mumbai” is based on the true story of the 2008 terrorist attacks on Mumbai which killed over 164 people and wounded 308 over four days. The film mainly focuses on the guest and staff of the Taj Palace Hotel who were being terrorised and held hostage during that time. Ten attackers carried out the execution of this senseless act of violence, and the film follows some of them, the locals, and visitors of various nationalities that were caught in the crosshairs.
Among them are David (Armie Hammer), his wife Zahara (Nazanin Boniadi), their infant child and nanny (Tilda Cobham-Hervey). There’s Arjun (Dev Patel), a waiter at the Taj desperately trying to provide for his family, his strict and meticulous supervisor Chef Hemant Oberoi (Anupam Kher) and Vasili (Jason Isaacs), a Russian businessman.
It’s hard to pinpoint which of these characters are real or fiction, though writer John Collee and writer/director Anthony Mares went in depth with their research, and interviewed hundreds of survivors, so while “Mumbai” can seem a bit coincidental, some of the characters are coming from a real place.
Both a ripped-from-the-headline recreation and an emotive vehicle for its high strung cast, “Mumbai” works as film of quiet compassion. Though the timing of its release can feel insensitive to the victims of the New Zealand massacre, I think it’s important folks see this film and understand the impact it’s trying to leave.
Maras does an exceptional job at juggling the films mechanics and moving parts, jumping between characters before slowly bringing everyone together, including a pair of aussie backpackers (Agnus McLaren and Natasha Liu Bordizzo) who witness early gunfire as attacks escalade across the city. Also showcased are the young Jihadists, both as they prepare for and unleash their ruthless murdering spree, including shooting their way through the hotel.
Additionally, Maras doesn’t steer away from the graphic depictions of these innocent victims being perforated with bullets, nor does he offer favors for the India government whom it took almost 12 hours to get special forces to infiltrate the hotel and rescue hostages (which could have saved more lives in the process). But he does punctuate his film with a sense of urgency, offering a brutal and captivating film that won’t be easy to shake.
Most of that is attributed to Patel and Kher who bring warmth and humility to their respective portrayals. Yet Maras is also smart to allow the terrorists to have some humility, offering glimpses of the lives each one lived and showcasing their religious integrity before slaughtering civilians. It still doesn’t make them anything less than horrible monsters, but Maras attempting to give us their point of view is both scary and mandatory.
Nonetheless, the filmmakers know how to invoke true tension at vivid moments, with cinematographer Nick Remy Matthews exemplifying his impact by creating a claustrophobic sense of dread as the survivors await help to arrive. In the process, “Hotel Mumbai” turns into an unlikely crowd pleaser that, in all its slickest and most Hollywood moments, has enough thrills and heart-wrenching moments to stay with you long after the credits roll.