Dev Patel and Armie Hammer lead an ensemble cast in a film about the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks. There were a series of twelve coordinated attacks across the city that would last four days leaving over 160 people dead and hundreds more injured. This film, however, focusses on the events that unfolded over one exhaustively long night at the Taj Hotel.
The opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan comes to mind as this thriller doesn’t waste any time climbing into the horrifying action. The onslaught of killings and bloody mayhem, although expected, relentlessly assaults your senses with only brief moments of nerve rallying relief.
Despite some key setup sequences the film keeps the majority of the action within the doomed halls of the luxury hotel. In his first feature, Australian Director Anthony Maras has done an impressive job at breathing life into the palatial building as it seemingly cries out in pain, heaving and huffing under the strain of the terrorist’s bullets, bombs and fires. In stoney contrast to the hotel’s normal inviting warmth, the second and third acts expose its cold labyrinthine underbelly. The building’s blinkered indifference, unflinching and unsentimental to the innocent guests trapped within its bowels, highlight the sheer brutality that humans are capable of inflicting on one another.
But it is this voyeuristic stare at the brutality that presents the film its problem. Often losing sight of its humanity, Hotel Mumbai focusses on “action” rather the people at the centre of it. Making this kind of film inherently walks a fine line between art and exploitation, and Hotel Mumbai feels too much like the latter. The terrorists roam the halls like aliens in the Nostromo, creating a currency of tension that feels like an entertainment transaction rather than a fundamental story about people. Sure, the white knuckle thrills are undoubtedly effective but they come laced with a sense of guilt.
There is little doubt that Maras has displayed some very impressive technical filmmaking and orchestrated a nerve-fraying experience. But as for a story of well fleshed-out characters that resonate deeply with the victims of the Taj Hotel tragedy? Hotel Mumbai falls short and leaves you exhausted rather than despairing.