TL;DR – This is an incredible, violent, and emotionally visceral film that will grab you in the first frame and not let go
Score – I honestly don’t know how to score this.
Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene
In a now previous life, I taught international relations to university students. This is a large discipline and one of the areas we looked at was terrorism, which happens to be one of the most pressing security issues in the modern world, or not, it’s complicated. All of this meant that when I walked into the theatre to review this film I thought I had a pretty good handle on what I was about to see, as I was quite familiar with the 2008 Mumbai Attacks, and well I could not have been more wrong.
So to set the scene, we open with a boat slowly making its way into one of the many harbours on the Mumbai shoreline. On the boat are eight well-dressed young men who could be there for work in the financial capital of India, but immediately you know that is not the case. Each of them carries a large duffel bag and they are listing to someone give them instructions, directing them to different landmarks across the city. Meanwhile, across the city everyone else is just going through their day as normal, Arjun (Dev Patel) is trying to get his dastaar perfect as he gets ready for work at the Taj Hotel, Zahara (Nazanin Boniadi), her husband David (Armie Hammer), and their nanny Sally (Tilda Cobham-Hervey) are arriving at the hotel after a long flight and everyone is racing to get the room ready for her as her mother is a VIP, and the hotel head chef Hemant (Anupam Kher) is just trying to work out how to get everything done in such a short time. None of them knows the hell that is heading for them.
first thing I have to say is that this was a very difficult film to watch and
also it was a very difficult film to review. Indeed, I have spent the last two
days since seeing it ruminating on what I watched and having some very restless
nights. I can’t tell you if this is a masterpiece of cinematic history or a film
that exploits violence and deaths of real people for entertainment or if it
both, hence why there is no score above. The more I try to coalesce my views the
more opaque and nebulous it gets, which was not helped by the fact that I had
to stop writing several times because I was getting too emotional, which once again I am not sure if it was a good or a
bad thing. So today I will do my best to
sum up my feelings about the film, if I can at all.
One thing this film does very well is that knows how to grab you from the first frame of the film. The moment you see the terrorists arrive, you know something is wrong because of how they stand out, and that immediately puts you on edge. This tension, well it builds and builds as you see the different taxis drive off to different parts of the city. All of this is juxtaposed with the normalcy of life, like forgetting one of your shoes because your unreliable sister-in-law didn’t come to babysit your daughter as you went to work. This juxtaposition of the extreme and the normalcy continues well after the attacks start, ever building tension as you wait for the inevitable to unleash. The film will often use things like mobile phones not working when you want to warn people not to open their doors, leaving you to yell ‘don’t open that door’ or people hiding in closets and you find yourself holding your breath like they are. This is one of those films that never gives you even a moment’s reprieve from the tension it is building.
have to give full respect to the entire cast for how willing they were to hit
every emotional beat in what must have
been a very difficult shoot. It has been amazing watching Dev Patel mature as
an actor from Skins all the way to here.
In every scene he is a presence and you
feel every moment he is going through. Armie Hammer and Nazanin Boniadi have an
instant rapport as a couple, which is important because you need to get that
established in the first minute they are on screen. I found it difficult just
sitting here and watching for an hour and a half, so I have no idea what it
would have been to go to that place needed for these performances day after
day, week after week.
One thing I do have to make clear is that this is a very violent film and you might be saying ‘I watch action films all the time, so that’s no problem’ well so do I and nothing prepared me for this. While some of the executions happen out of the frame, many happen up close and personal as their screams pierce your heart. The wanton indiscriminate nature of the killings is accurate to the event the film is depicting but that does not make it any easier to watch. I have seen films with a much higher kill counts before but here every barrage of bullets has weight and power. There were more than a few times that I felt emotionally overwhelmed by it all, it is still difficult talking about it days later. I think the fact that this is a real event that happened actually amplifies this and you don’t even have the disassociated distance of time to help you out as you do with say some WW2 films. This is of course amplified with splicing real-life footage from the day into the film, giving you no place to escape to.
the film is a visceral and deeply affecting
look at the Attacks on Mumbai in 2008, it also holds back in places that it
could have focused a bit more at. For example, one of the big issues
on the day was how the terrorists were using the media coverage of the attack
to help coordinate what they would do next. Here we get a hint of that but no
exploration of the role of the media and how its coverage could affect these incidents.
The same could be said to the Indian government’s poor response to the attacks.
It felt at times that the film was holding off being too critical when it really
should have gone there.
In the end, do we recommend Hotel Mumbai? And that is a question that I honestly do not know the answer to. In some ways, this is a film that has had the biggest impact on me of any film in recent memory. However, it also left me an emotional wreck. It is violent and confronting, but also telling a story about the best and worst of humanity. I don’t know the answers, but I do know that Hotel Mumbai will be with me for a very long time.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
Have you watched Hotel Mumbai?, let us know what you thought in the comments below, feel free to share this review on any of the social medias and you can follow us Here. Check out all our past reviews and articles Here, and have a happy day.
Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Hotel Mumbai
Directed by – Anthony Maras
Screenplay by – John Collee & Anthony Maras
Based on – Surviving Mumbai by Victoria Midwinter Pitt
Music by – Volker Bertelmann (Hauschka)
Cinematography by – Nick Remy Matthews
Edited by – Peter McNulty & Anthony Maras
Production/Distribution Companies – Screen Australia, Thunder Road Pictures, Arclight Films, Electric Pictures, Xeitgeist Entertainment Group Bleecker Street & Icon Film Distribution
Starring – Dev Patel, Armie Hammer, Nazanin Boniadi, Anupam Kher, Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Jason Isaacs, Alex Pinder, Amandeep Singh, Suhail Nayyar, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Yash Trivedi, Vipin Sharma, Manoj Mehra & Carmen Duncan.
Rating – Australia: MA15+; United States: R