Tag: Jason Isaacs

Hotel Mumbai

hmDev 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.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.

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The Death of Stalin

deathofstalin

Scottish writer/director Armando Iannucci (Veep, The Thick of It) has taken his politically-charged brand of comedy to the big screen and adapted Fabien Nury’s absurdist satirical comic, which parodies events surrounding the demise of one of the world’s most ruthless dictators.

In what feels like a blend of Guy Ritchie’s gangster caper Snatch and Christopher Morris’s topically awkward black comedy about incompetent British jihadists (Four Lions), The Death of Stalin depicts the tyrant’s final days and the ensuing political scramble to fill the power vacuum. In the best traditions of British farcical humour, the film follows a Soviet committee of bumbling buffoons with knives drawn and ready to plunge into the back of their respective comrades … all for the betterment of the Soviet Union, of course.   

In particular, Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi) and Lavrenti Beria (brilliantly played by Simon Russell Beale) duke it out in a bloody political game of chess.  What is astonishing are many of the details, which feel engineered for comedic effect, but are factually true—right down to the fumbling committee unable to find a doctor available to treat the ailing Stalin, because they had all been imprisoned or executed.

Sure, cinematic liberties have bent history a little out of shape, with events condensed and players shuffled, most likely to accommodate the impressive cast.  Molotov (Michael Palin), for example, had resigned prior to the events unfolding in this film. Such tweaks will most likely irk historians … me? Nah, I’ll take Palin over some slight inaccuracies any day.

Although, those who can fully appreciate the gravity of Stalin’s murderous regime might find something a little off with having a laugh at the expense of those who suffered. There’s a nagging sense of something sour in your popcorn, a whiff of guilt at every chuckle. One could argue that such humour is at the very heart of what it means to be a “black comedy” and ultimately, it will be to personal taste if the subject matter spoils it for you.  Shame, because there are some moments of genuine comedic gold here.

Read the full review for the NZ Herald here.