The first great film of 2019. A visceral, pulse-pounding, frenetic docudrama held together with extraordinary technique by Maras. Imagine, a Hollywood film based on real events that depicts men and women of diversity as honest-to-God real-life heroes.
On November 26th, 2008, 10 members of an Islamic terrorist organization. Operating out of Pakistan, they coordinated an attack in Mumbai, India. It lasted four days. In all, 174 people were killed. A result of mass shootings and bombings was spread wide across the city. These actions were condemned globally. The new film depicting the attack on the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel could have resorted to the practice of whitewashing its characters. Instead, the focus is spread evenly among its diverse cast, and Hotel Mumbai depicts them as honest-to-God real-life heroes.
Australian Anthony Maras makes his feature-length film directorial debut (after his award-winning work in short films like The Palace). He has a strong supporting team around him, including working from a screenplay from John Collee (Master & Commander), producer Basil Iwanyk (Sicario, The Town, Wind River) cumulating in a film of great emotional intensity and stoicism that’s reminiscent of Michael Mann without being at the end of stylized filmmaking that is replaced with an intense, frenetic pace and feels. This could have come undone quickly. It’s held together with Maras’ strong framing. A wonderful example of this is a scene of Indian officers walking slowly through a smoke-filled hallway is particularly effective). The cinematography from Nick Remy Matthews (One-Eyed Girl) can be visually exciting at times.
The cast is a strong one and is the film’s secret weapon. Dev Patel plays a waiter at the Hotel Mumbai who has a wife, a child, and another on the way. He works for a popular chef Hermant Oberoi (The Big Sick’s Anupam Kher). He operates with a caring heart and high standards. Armie Hammer plays David, a hotel patron, with his wife Zahra (Homeland’s Nazanin Boniadi). In comparison, their infant child is in their hotel suite with their nanny Sally (Tilda Cobham-Hervey). Special mention should be given to actors Vitthal Kale and Nagesh Bhonsale. They play two police officers who take a small team into the building. They bravely go against the direct orders of their superiors while special forces were hours away.
Patel continues to display real growth as an actor since his turn in Slumdog Millionaire. This is displayed particularly in a powerful scene, explaining to a scared and bigoted patron. He tells her that he will take off his religious headwear if it makes her more comfortable, even though he was directly responsible for getting her to safety. Along with legendary international film star Anupam Kher, a veteran of over 500 films, he brings a touch of grace to most of the roles he takes on. Nazanin Boniadi is a standout here. She plays a woman raised as a Muslim but now stuck boarded behind locked doors hiding from the terrorists, desperately trying to think of a way to reunite with her family.
Hotel Mumbai is, no question, a hard watch, and with the recent terror attacks in New Zealand, this film isn’t for the faint of heart (considering the amount of up-close deaths that are depicted in the film), but that is also not as exploitative as you would think. Maras shoots the film in a way that is blunt and to the point. It doesn’t sugarcoat the atrocities of the gutless attack that day, focusing on how awful these crimes were, even if it combines real events with fictionalized ones and composite characters (Jason Isaacs’ character Vasili is the black sheep here).
Bottom line, in a bleak start to 2019, Hotel Mumbai is the first great film of the year with emotional resonance and technical prowess. It’s a pulse-pounding, frenetic docudrama that is held together with the extraordinary technique by the team of Maras and Matthews. This is a Hollywood dramatization that is finally based on real events in a third-world country. The film features a diverse cast that honors their heroic acts and the sacrifices made.