Sunday 7 April 2019

Movie Review: Hotel Mumbai (2018)

A recreation of the large-scale 2008 terrorist attacks, Hotel Mumbai portrays selfless bravery amidst unfolding panic and deadly coordinated mayhem.

It's November 2008 and 10 heavily armed and well-trained terrorists, all indoctrinated young men, arrive in Mumbai on an inflatable dinghy. In constant touch with their handlers through cell phones and earpieces, the terrorists split up to attack various predesignated targets.

At the lavish Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, chef Hemant Oberoi (Anupam Kher) and waiter Arjun (Dev Patel) are among the staff members and take pride in providing exceptional service. The guests include the wealthy and recently married Zahra (Nazanin Boniadi) and her American husband David (Armie Hammer), along with their infant son and nanny Sally (Tilda Cobham-Hervey). Vasili (Jason Isaacs) is a tough Russian ex-military type also staying at the hotel.

After killing scores of civilians at a train station terminal and other locations, a subgroup of the terrorists infiltrate the Taj and start randomly killing guests and staff, while seeking out foreigners as hostages. With local authorities outgunned and help slow in arriving, Hemant, Arjun and other staff members have to find ways to shelter and save as many guests as possible.

Based on real events, with chef Oberoi an actual character and the other featured guests and staff members amalgamations of real survivors and victims, Hotel Mumbai is an astounding achievement. Tense, harrowing, gripping and heartbreaking, often all at the same time, the film recreates with unblinking audacity the tragedy of a large-scale terrorist slaughter and conveys what it means to live through an unfolding hell.

With terrorist attacks aiming to inflict maximum damage an all too frequent occurrence around the world, Hotel Mumbai pauses and humanizes the scale and depth of the atrocities. The statistics become husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, infants and nannies, businessmen, backpackers and locals, and life-long employees dedicated to their guests and working to support their families. Each has a story and a life disrupted or terminated by human-inflicted terror.

And director Anthony Maras, who co-wrote the script with John Collee, insists on also defining the attackers and their loss of humanity. They are portrayed as indoctrinated and uneducated young men from rural areas, bewildered by the big city surroundings and fully in the grip of handlers providing continuous reassurance and brainwashing through earpieces. The promise of money to their families is part of the motivation, and Maras takes time amidst the carnage for an attacker to phone home and check on that commitment.

The film does not judge the official local non-readiness to deal with a well-planned attack, allowing the facts to speak for themselves as residents are left to fend for themselves for more than two days while a counter-terrorist force arrives from New Delhi. The brave attempts of a few out-gunned local police officers to provide help are highlighted.

With its numerous victims and relentlessly grim tone Hotel Mumbai is extraordinarily difficult to watch, but also an essential story of a barbarous bloodbath confronted by exceptional courage.

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