HOTEL MUMBAI (Anthony Maras). 125 minutes. Opens Friday (March 29). See listing. Rating: NNNN
A movie centred on a terrorist attack that hits theatres in the wake of New Zealand’s recent mosque shooting might seem distasteful and disrespectful – not to mention, a box-office risk. After all, we’re sick of hearing the news and seeing the images of gunmen killing innocent people in our everyday lives. Why would we seek out entertainment that mirrors this reality?
Hotel Mumbai certainly won’t be for everyone anyone triggered by the sound of gunfire will want to skip it. But director Anthony Maras’s debut feature in no way capitalizes on people’s terror, nor does it trivialize it as straight-up entertainment. Instead, the movie takes a humanistic approach to the lives caught in the crossfire.
Set mostly at the opulent Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in the Mumbai’s seaside Colaba district, Hotel Mumbai revisits the 2008 terrorist attack in India’s most populous city. The story switches between several points of view, including those of the gunmen, a loyal hotel waiter (Dev Patel) and an interracial American couple (Armie Hammer and Nazanin Boniadi) visiting with their baby and nanny in tow.
What makes the film captivating are the lesser-known and, perhaps, less obvious stories from the people working at the hotel’s front desk who tried to deter the gunman and call for help, to the hotel’s head chef determined to protect his guests. Maras deftly rides the line between patronizing western views of subservience and giving his characters agency and depth.
Although audiences who remember watching the news during this time will know how things end, Maras manages to sustain the tension, thanks in part to Volker Bertelmann’s haunting score.
The ensemble cast is excellent, with Patel giving a particularly moving performance. Empathy and emotions certainly run high in this two-hour nail-biter.