Hotel Mumbai fails to capture the urgency of real life
Based on true events, the passable action-thrillerHotel Mumbai recounts the November 26, 2008 terrorist attacks that besieged India’s financial capital. Co-writer and director Anthony Maras, making his feature debut here, propels viewers through the action, but too often Hotel Mumbai feels manipulative. The suspense is often dragged out or telegraphed, which makes this story of bravery in the face of danger lack the dramatic impact it desires.
The story opens by establishing the major characters. Arjun (Dev Patel) is a working-class Sikh with a young child and a pregnant wife, who is a waiter in the 5-star Taj Hotel. His manager, Chef Oberoi (Anupam Kher), is a gruff man who chides Arjun for losing his shoes that morning. Enter the VIP guests: Russian notable Vasili (Jason Isaacs), as well as David (Armie Hammer), his wife Zahra (Nazanin Boniadi), their baby, and their nanny Sally (Tilda Cobham-Hervey). None of these characters are given much depth—they all conform to a kind of stereotype—so with a few exceptions, it is hard to care about them even though viewers are supposed to root for them.
Oddly, the film generates some sympathy for Imran (Amandeep Singh), one of the Muslim terrorists. In one of the film’s few emotional moments, Imran pauses to call his father and tells him that he loves him. It is both heartbreaking and disconcertingly humanizing.Hotel Mumbai could have used more interesting scenes like this one. Instead, there is a “humorous” moment where one terrorist fools another to think that he is eating pork. It is as painful and unnecessary as a scene of David ordering a hamburger in Mumbai—Zahra reminds him (and audiences) that the cow is sacred.
Maras also generates empty tension with scenes of Sally in the shower, unaware of the terrorists attack, or her hiding in a closet, trying to quiet a fussy baby, as a gunman lurks outside the door. There is some mild drama chronicling David’s escape from the dining room to find Sally, or the local police try to shoot and kill a trio of terrorists trying to infiltrate a room where hotel staff and guests are hiding. More forceful is an episode in which the terrorists order the hotel desk clerks at gunpoint to call guests, which bring about their deaths. While the film features considerable violence—and some of it quite harrowing—a significant amount of it happens off-screen.
Since the local police are ill-equipped to appease the attackers, and special forces are being called in from Delhi—8 hours away—Hotel Mumbai settles in to the showing how the characters are coping with their increasingly dire situation. But little of this is illuminating. Arjun has to explain why he wears a turban to a rich white guest, and how it will bring shame on to his family to remove it. Moments later, Arjun uses his turban to help staunch a victim’s wound. Likewise, Vasili, who proves himself to be uncouth at dinner prior to the attack, redeems himself by risking his life to help Zahra reunite with David and their baby. How these mini-dramas play out, however, fails to fully engage. Hotel Mumbai does not have the immediacy of say, United 93; it feels more like one of those lackluster ‘70s disaster films.
It is not a spoiler to reveal that some of the innocent hotel staff and guests live, and some of them die. Alas, despite Maras and his co-screenwriter John Collee noble efforts to honor the victims and survivors, they have made a film that is sadly underwhelming.
Hotel Mumbai opens in Philly theaters today.