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Hotel Mumbai Movie Review

Hotel Mumbai (2019) movie poster Hotel Mumbai

US Theatrical Release: March 22, 2019 (Australian Release: March 14, 2019) / Running Time: 123 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Anthony Maras / Writers: John Collee, Anthony Maras

Cast: Dev Patel (Arjun), Armie Hammer (David), Nanzanin Boniadi (Zahra), Tilda Cobham-Hervey (Sally), Anupam Kher (Chef Oberoi), Jason Isaacs (Vasili)


Hotel Mumbai comes from the Paul Greengrass school of filmmaking. Like the director's best-known works outside of the Bourne franchise (United 93, Captain Phillips, last year's 22 July), it recreates a real terrorist act with what one can only hope is meticulous research and minimal exploitation.

In this case, the attack in question is actually part of a series of attacks that occurred over four days in India's capital in late November 2008.
There were 166 fatalities and over 300 injuries as a result of ten Islamic terrorists shooting at people in a transit station, cafe, and other densely-populated places.

As the title suggests, the focus here is on a hotel, namely the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, an opulent and well-managed temporary residence for wealthy travelers. The setting is established with looks at the staff drawing a bath to an exact temperature and being sure to lay out the right colored baby attire for a guest who has just given birth. Our most focal point of entry to this establishment is Arjun (Dev Patel), a hard-working kitchen staff member with a young child and another on the way. Arjun is nearly sent home for showing up to work in sandals, his shoe having fallen out of a bag. Instead he is able to persuade his professionality-exuding boss, head chef Hemant (Anupam Kher) to let him pick up the shift he desperately needs.

A Muslim newlywed (Nazanin Boniadi) and a Russian businessman (Jason Isaacs) are among those whose lives are endangered in "Hotel Mumbai."

Of course, it's about to be as pleasant a shift as the 1988 Nakatami Plaza Christmas Party. Young men carrying automatic weapons and backpacks of ammunition do not discriminate as they shoot men and women alike. By this point, we've gotten to know a few of the people who are checked into the Taj, including affluent newlyweds (Armie Hamer and Nazanin Boniadi) with that newborn baby and nanny (Tilda Cobham-Hervey) and an unsettling Russian man (Harry Potter's Jason Isaacs) who is into hard liquor and prostitutes.

Anthony Maras, the Australian who makes his feature directing debut and co-wrote the screenplay with Scotland's John Collee (Master and Commander, The Legend of Tarzan), opts for Greengrass-style docudrama only without as much shaky camerawork.
The horrific events being restaged might well grip on their own, but Maras makes them all the more tense so by maximizing the suspense. The specifics of the attacks are not going to be as well-known to American moviegoers as those of 9/11, so the film has the capacity to surprise and repeatedly does as we watch, fists clenched, bracing for the worst but hoping for the best as those inside the hotel wait and wait for special forces to arrive from New Dehli.

One might question the need for an Australian filmmaker to commemorate this heinous event. The pain of those who survived it and those with family members who did not would seem to at least negate any cathartic or cautionary value the film might hold. The fact that you can view the film as simply an action thriller based on a true story might give you pause as well. But you cannot deny that Maras, Collee, and their game cast have made something both dramatically effective and emotionally harrowing.

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Reviewed April 5, 2019.

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