THREE AND A HALF STARS Terrorists strike in Mumbai, killing hundreds and laying siege to The Taj Hotel.
Dev Patel, Armie Hammer
Barely ten years ago, hundreds of people died when terrorists stormed Mumbai’s Taj Hotel for the glory of their god. What was truly shocking then has, over time, become a shockingly normal event with barely a month passing without a variation on the narrative happening somewhere in the world. The difference is that as this pointless tragedy slowly unfolded, it became a story that stopped first India then the world.
This Australian co-production successfully plants audiences in the middle of the chaos. From the start, HOTEL MUMBAI is a tense experience as a gang of well armed thugs make their way toward various targets across Mumbai: a railway station, a market, the Taj. Heightening the anxiety are scenes within the tranquil, high-end hotel where staff (including Dev Patel) meet guests (like Armie Hammer). There’s a disaster movie quality about these introductions as we’re invited to work out who’ll survive the inevitable onslaught. Yet once it arrives, and an onslaught it is, any suggestion that this is mere entertainment evaporate as the bombs and bullets find their targets. It’s like fish in a barrel, and it’s hideous.
If the director’s objective is to make the unimaginable tangible, he succeeded. If you want to know how terrifying it must feel to be on the inside of a hostage situation, HOTEL MUMBAI’s your film. As guests get picked off for hours on end (for sound reasons, it took several hours to bring the situation inside the Taj under control), the film drives your anxiety sky high. Fortunately, this is not exploitation dressed up as a serious movie.
Working with co-writer John Collee, Anthony Maras succeeds in conveying the inevitable end when fundamentalism and populism collide. It’s ugly and, as the subtext says, can happen anywhere, to anyone, at anytime. By populating the film with stock characters (few rise above the pack), it’s distressingly easy to place yourself alongside ordinary people caught up in the carnage. The result is an empathetic experience, albeit one laced with gut-punching emotions that strike hard and leave you reeling.