Review: Hotel Mumbai (2018)

Hotel Mumbai (2018)

Directed by: Anthony Maras | 135 minutes | drama, history | Actors: Dev Patel, Armie Hammer, Nazanin Boniadi, Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Anupam Kher, Jason Isaacs, Amandeep Singh, Suhail Nayyar, Manoj Mehra, Dinesh Kumar, Amriptal Singh, Kapil Kumar Netra, Adithi Kalkunte, Alex Pinder, Vipin Sharma, Nazanin Boniadi, Gaurav Paswala, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Angus McLaren

True stories do well in Hollywood. Modern history appeals to the imagination. Film is an ideal medium to dwell on a certain event. Take World War II or 9/11 for example. By illuminating this history in different ways, you as a filmmaker can take it for years to come. Moviegoers can’t get enough of ‘true’ stories either.

The danger of films that capitalize on the darkest moments in human history is recognizability. A film about life in a concentration camp like ‘Son of Saul’ would never have worked if it had worked with famous actors. The same goes for ‘United 93’, which was about the 9/11 attacks.

When a well-known star or actor is in a movie about such pitch-black matters, it distracts and the movie loses impact. Editing reality for a more dramatic effect is also one way of tampering with the credibility of a film based on true facts. ‘Hotel Mumbai’ is a good example of this. The participation of Dev Patel and Armie Hammer undermines the impact of the film. You see Hollywood stars playing a role and not real people in horrific circumstances.

‘Hotel Mumbai’ tells the story of the attacks in Mumbai in 2008. A group of heavily armed Pakistani militants opens the attack on the iconic Taj Mahal Palace hotel in India. For 68 hours, hundreds of people are held hostage, shots are fired and a huge fire rages. When the smoke clears, more than 160 people have been killed and many more injured. The heroic actions of the staff and a number of bold guests prevented the death toll from rising.

Debut director Anthony Maras does not shy away from showing violence. This is a very gory movie. That’s not an issue in and of itself, but the fact that you’re watching a film based on a tragic event with Hollywood stars and fictitious plot points (a director-designed nanny hides with a baby from the terrorists) is incorporated, gives this film an uncomfortable sauce.

‘Hotel Mumbai’ chokes on the mixture of slick Hollywood thriller and factual reporting. The acting is excellent and the consequences of terrorism are clearly portrayed. That is commendable. The use of a partly (semi-)famous cast torpedoed the impact of what could have been a classic in the hands of Paul ‘United 93’ Greengrass. A more distant, documentary-style approach would have served this film well.

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