Hotel Mumbai (2019)
★★ / ★★★★
On November 2008, ten members of an Islamic terrorist organization launched a series of coordinated bombings and shootings across the great city of Mumbai. The senseless killing spree resulted in nearly two hundred deaths. The film focuses on one of the targets, the Taj Hotel, and dramatizes the events.
Although enthralling in parts, “Hotel Mumbai,” directed by Anthony Maras, suffers from a perspective problem. One minute we are seeing the action unfold from the terrorists’ perspective and the next we find ourselves sitting amongst the horrified victims. But that is not all. We, too, observe the happenings from the authorities’ point of view. There is plenty to digest. And at some point, because the picture’s pacing drags around the halfway point, we wonder if perhaps it might have been a wiser choice to focus on only one perspective. It certainly would have forced the writers and filmmakers to tell the story in a more effective and efficient manner.
All of the actors deliver solid performances, from Dev Patel as a hotel staff who was late to his shift, Jason Isaacs as an obnoxious Russian who happens to be a former military personnel, to Armie Hammer as a father who decides to rescue his infant son on the fourth floor after the initial attack. But these figures are defined only by one or two surface personalities. While this is understandable in a movie that attempts to cover so much ground, it becomes a challenge to invest deeply into their fates.
Isn’t the point to get us to care for or learn about both the survivors and the deceased, to honor them in some way? But let’s say this isn’t the point. If so, then why is it that the picture fails to put in the time to honor the hotel staff, particularly those who chose to stay and help the guests? Thus, on this level, due to its contradictory nature, an argument can be made that the work is ineffective as a biographical dramatic thriller.
We have all seen bodies being gunned down in the movies. But what I appreciated here is the lack of gloss in the killings. There is screaming, panic, and chaos. Bodies fall in ugly and awkward ways. Blood is everywhere, but it never comes across as an action or a horror film. It is the correct choice to not create shallow entertainment from the gruesome murders. Despite the pandemonium, however, what I remember most is not the dying or the corpses.
Notice that when the terrorists are on the rampage, their faces are shown from time to time. Observe their expressions carefully. Many of them are blank. Some look bored, like taking a life is simply a chore to be performed. They take no pleasure from their actions. They yell and appear to be angry on the surface, but is what we are seeing simply a reflection of their training/brainwashing? I found this particular aspect most fascinating. The image of the terrorists’ faces—many of them young—made such an impression on me early on that during the slower moments in the second half, I was still haunted by their apathetic countenance.
It is without question that there is a tragedy worth telling through a dramatic lens here. But “Hotel Mumbai” is about thirty minutes too long, plagued with numerous repetitive elements such as having to tiptoe around the main hall toward an area of escape or people disagreeing when it comes to what to do next. Instead of focusing a few human stories, the broad strokes result in covering up the story’s more compelling angles.