‘Hotel Mumbai’ Review: Terrorism as Popcorn Movie?March 21, 2019
Like “United 93,” “Hotel Mumbai” begins from the uncomfortable premise of turning an actual terrorist incident into material for a dramatized suspense feature. In November 2008, 10 men unleashed gunfire and grenade assaults across Mumbai, killing more than 160 people.
The film, inspired by a documentary, “Surviving Mumbai,” relays these events from the vantage points of a sprawling international ensemble. The characters, many of them composites, are the guests and staff members of the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower Hotel, one of two luxury hotels the terrorists targeted, and where more than 30 died during the siege.
An affluent couple (Nazanin Boniadi and Armie Hammer) leave their newborn upstairs with the nanny (Tilda Cobham-Hervey) to enjoy their dinner date in the hotel restaurant. A high-rolling Russian (Jason Isaacs) plans to spend the evening cavorting with local escorts. The heroic hotel employees include the head chef (Anupam Kher) and a Sikh waiter (Dev Patel) who shows up to work that day without proper footwear but begs to stay, needing the shift.
Anthony Maras, making his first feature, interweaves these threads with precision and clarity, conveying an impressive sense of the hotel layout, the confusion of the circumstances and the visceral fear of hiding from the gunmen. (The opulent hotel was re-created in both Mumbai and Adelaide, Australia.)
But the more involving “Hotel Mumbai” plays in the moment, the queasier it seems in retrospect. It reduces the randomness of real-life bloodshed to the slick thrills of a popcorn movie. And after the mosque attacks in Christchurch, which led the film’s distributor in New Zealand to suspend the movie’s release there, its savagery is especially difficult to take.
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Rated R. Unceasing violence. In English, Urdu and Hindi, with English subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 3 minutes.
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