Hotel Mumbai

 

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A stunning debut which is nevertheless seen as controversial by some.

 

Hotel Mumbai

   

For Anthony Maras this film is without doubt a considerable achievement. It is his first feature but is made with absolute assurance, so much so indeed that it is no surprise that he is also credited as a co-editor in addition to which he contributed to the screenplay. Hotel Mumbai is a great calling card for this Australian filmmaker and Hollywood could well be taking note. Nevertheless, the film has become to some extent a subject of controversy due to the material it tackles and the way in which it approaches it.

 

As one might deduce from the title, Maras’s film is concerned with the 2008 terrorist attacks by a Pakistan based Islamic organisation which were centred on Mumbai generally and in particular on its famous hotel, the Taj Mahal Palace. That being so, Hotel Mumbai invites comparison with United 93 which as early as 2006 portrayed the plane hijacking that was part of 9/11. Advance doubts about that film were stilled due to the controlled documentary style adopted so aptly by its director Paul Greengrass and the film was rightly seen as an apt tribute to those who lost their lives. In exactly the same way Hotel Mumbai is a memorial to those, both visitors and staff, who died in the Taj that November. That means that neither film is an entertainment and I do not think that critics should ever concern themselves with speculation about who would want to pay to see a film with subject matter so harrowing.

 

What does to some extent explain doubts expressed about Hotel Mumbai is the fact that in being true to what happened the film contains as much violence as an actioner with killings that hardly let up. This fact is underlined by the over-dramatic music score by Volker Bertelmann but, if that hints at an exploitation picture, it is contradicted by Maras placing the emphasis on the horrifying threat as opposed to dwelling on gory wounds and by the extent to which the audience is invited to identify with the potential victims. It is also to Maras’s credit that, without ever softening the appalling cruelty of their acts, his film emphasises the youthfulness of the terrorists involved so that we see them as boys led astray by fanatics and accordingly pitiable in their own right.

 

Hotel Mumbai is hugely successful in making the audience feel that what they are seeing is authentic even though the main characters are representative figures rather than actual real-life individuals (it seems that the chef admirably played by Anupam Kher is an exception). Even so in running on for slightly longer than it should (123 minutes) the film does late on, albeit briefly, feel by turn melodramatic and sentimental and the role of a Russian guest played by Jason Isaacs is the one character written in terms that smack of fiction. However, the rest of the cast including Armie Hammer, Nazanin Boniadi and Dev Patel (the latter giving what may well be his best performance to date) all add to the sense of conviction. There are misjudgments as I have indicated but Hotel Mumbai is genuinely impressive and what I have read about the short films by Anthony Maras which preceded it further challenges any notion of this being an exploitative movie.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Dev Patel, Armie Hammer, Anupam Kher, Nazanin Boniadi, Jason Isaacs, Tilda Cobham-Harvey, Amadeep Singh, Suhail Nayyar, Maroj Mehia, Dinesh Kumar, Carmen Duncan, Alex Pinder.

 

Dir Anthony Maras, Pro Basil Iwanyk, Gary Hamilton, Andrew Ogilvie, Jomon Thomas, Mike Gabrawy, Julie Ryan and Brian Hayes, Screenplay John Collee and Anthony Maras, Ph Nick Remy Matthews, Pro Des Steven Jones-Evans, Ed Anthony Maras and Peter McNulty, Music Volker Bertelmann, Costumes Anna Borghesi.

 

Arclight Films/Bleecker Street/Cyan Films/Icon Films-Sky Cinema.
123 mins. Australia/USA/UK/India/Singapore. 2018. Rel: 27 September 2019. Cert. 15.