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HOTEL MUMBAI gets 6.5/10 Blood and tears


Directed by Anthony Maras

Starring Dev Patel, Armie Hammer, Anupam Kher, Jason Isaacs, Nazanin Boniadi

6.5/10

Based on the Mumbai terrorist attacks of 2008, this film recounts the events of those fateful few days paying special attention to the bloodthirsty siege of the Taj Mahal Palace. The attack forms the centre of the film, as guests and staff attempt to survive a room by room culling of the building.

There’s no doubt that Hotel Mumbai is grim viewing. Given the nature of the events it is hard for it not to be, and despite lionising the staff and victims (and honestly given the courage shown by many of the participants, rightly so) this film does not shy away from the grisliness of the event, or attempt to sugar coat the proceedings. In fact, it is remarkably effective in conveying this to an audience, if the frequent startled jumps of the couple beside me are anything of a guide. The result is harrowing, but gives a sense of fidelity that can often be lost in some accounts of tragedy.

Yet beyond this re-enactment it’s hard to see what themes are explored in Hotel Mumbai. Are we merely spectators to the attack? Sure it raises some issues of racism, income inequality, the co-opting by extremist of religion to justify terrible deeds, and colonialism (and its 20th and 21st century echoes), but all of these are never delved into with any degree of nuance. Perhaps the film merely wishes to focus on the heroism of the staff in the horror they are undergoing, and if so Hotel Mumbai achieves this, but it does seem to sacrifice some depth to do so.

In this ensemble cast playing both real individuals and fictional amalgams, the highlight is certainly Dev Patel. From the precision taken by straightening a fold in his turban (or dastar?) with a pin, highlighting the pride of his Sikh heritage, to the simple emotion and empathy he conveys in each of his speeches, Patel is on form here. He brings to life a virtuous man, a waiter caught in an atrocity. Anupam Kher also manages to bring a gravitas to his performance as the hotel’s chef, thrown into a leadership position, and attempting to guarantee the safety of the guests under his care. By contrast the larger American names (Hammer and Isaacs) appear oddly placed, but wisely don’t derail the flow of the story into a heroic action narrative (which seems threatened at some points).

In short, director Anthony Maras’ debut feature gives us a brutal recreation of events, realised in devastating detail. Hotel Mumbai, may at times drift towards a more Hollywoodized version, but it always pulls itself back from that edge, leaving audiences wrung out from the experience.

DAVID O’CONNELL

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