Directed by: Anthony Maras
Written by: John Collee & Anthony Maras
Starring: Dev Patel, Armie Hammer, Nazanin Boniadi, Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Anupam Kher
Detailing the events of terrorist attacks in a film presents a challenge to the filmmakers as they have to toe the line of trying to bring light to the events and avoid being exploitative of the lives lost. These events change the lives of the people involved and cause a ripple effect of the place where it occurred. What took place in this hotel in 2008 was a tragedy and while this film does not anything new to the story, it undeniably shows the horror of what took place with precision and emotional effectiveness.
The story centers around Arjun (Dev Patel) who works as a waiter at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel where many of the prestigious guests of India stay. The motto of the hotel is “Guest is God,” as they expect their workers to have excellent customer service. On that horrific night, honorary guests arrive including an heiress (Nazanin Boniadi), her husband David (Armie Hammer), and their newborn son. Ten terrorists attack 12 different locations in Mumbai, which converges in the Taj Mahal Palace. The night turns into a hunt for the terrorists and a fight for survival for the guests and workers, as they await the support of special forces on their way from New Delhi.
Based on its depiction and retelling, what took place that night in the Taj Mahal Hotel seemed horrifying. Hotel Mumbai does not shy away from showing the violence that took place and the sheer amount of people murdered. If that was the point of the film then it executed it very well. At times it felt like a cross of a thriller and horror film, where the only goal became survival. The true villain of this film remains extremism as the ten men responsible for the terror attack all followed the orders of a faceless man telling them that the work they commit that night results in glory to God and they will be rewarded in the afterlife. Tackling that ideology is something the film does very well especially in an interaction one of the terrorists has with a particular character. It provides an unexpected dissonance for them.
Hotel Mumbai comes with a story filled with the horrors of the night, but the characters were unfortunately razor-thin. The only thing that established any of them came from a basic background and a singular reason why they would be missed if they died, but besides that, they barely possessed anything human about them. They primarily served as a vessel for the audience to experience the brutality that occurred, which detracts from the emotional moments the film tries to exude. It became difficult to connect with any of the characters it just felt like watching a bunch of strangers get gunned down and it only made it more uncomfortable to process. The lack of any character work becomes even more unfortunate due to the film employing the talents of Dev Patel and Armie Hammerl and with the material provided they could have really cast anyone in the roles.
In the end, the horrifying event becomes the main draw for the film and it’s a success in executing a horrifying story about the terrorist attack at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. It became exploitative because it does not add anything to the story besides showing the death that occurred on that night. A success but a very minor one.