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“Hotel Mumbai” Is A Powerful And Visceral Experience


Telling a true story like this on film requires walking a very fine line. If the tale is too overtly manipulative, audiences will reject it as false and perhaps even as exploitative. However, when you do it properly, it can bring tears and a new perspective to a tragedy. For filmmaker Anthony Maras, he’s able to take a tough story and tell it well with Hotel Mumbai. Avoiding the cliched moments as best as he can, this is more a docudrama in the mold of Paul Greengrass than a crass Hollywood effort. It doesn’t reach those heights, but it’s solid stuff. Opening this week, it’s well worth seeing.

This drama retells the harrowing true story of the 2008 Taj Hotel terrorist attack in Mumbai, India. Specifically, it focuses on how various hotel staff members went out of their way to risk their lives in an effort to keep everyone staying at the hotel safe. Obviously, people of all backgrounds would need to make unthinkable sacrifices in order to protect themselves and their families. At the start of the day, we meet waiter Arjun (Dev Patel), who’s late for work. He has to beg the renowned chef on staff Hemant Oberoi (Anupam Kher) to be allowed to still take his shift. Soon, they’ll be putting their difference aside to save people like the desperate couple David (Armie Hammer) and Zahra (Nazanin Boniadi), who are willing to make some unthinkable sacrifices in the hopes of protecting their newborn child. While the world watches on television, the terrorists mow down more and more innocent civilians, making escape less and less likely. Maras co-writes with John Collee, directs, and co-edits. Volker Bertelmann contributed the music, while the cinematography is by Nick Remy Matthews. Other supporting players include Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Jason Isaacs, and more.

The power of this film resides in how visceral it makes the story. Not just in terms of the violence either, but the true intensity of the story. It’s truly an exhaustive experience. Actors like Hammer and Patel give viewers recognizable faces to look for, but it’s really an ensemble. Maras also makes it clear that anyone could be murdered at any time. In that sense, it realistically mimics what it must have been like for everyone at the Taj Hotel during that awful siege. Where he could have wound up with exploitation, instead he crafted an emotional tribute to bravery and heroism.


Hotel Mumbai probably has designs on Academy Award love, though that currently seems like a long shot, at best. It’s so early that it’s impossible to know what Oscar voters will gravitate toward, but this is undeniably awards bait. At the same time, while it’s a good picture, it’s not quite a great one. As such, the odds of this one catching on are low. Perhaps it gets remembered in the fall and especially the winter, but the odds are not in its favor, at least by my current estimation. Time will tell, and you can’t count anything out just yet, but don’t go and bet the farm on this one being a big player.

This weekend, Hotel Mumbai enters the marketplace, offering up an intense experience. It won’t be for everyone, that’s for sure, as it’s intense, upsetting, and undeniably violent. At the same time, the emotional investment you make in the characters is largely rewarded. If the film misses out on being amazing, it has to settle for just being rather good, which is no small thing. This is a movie that demands you to open yourself up to a visceral telling of a tragedy, but if you can do that, it’s the sort of cinematic effort that leaves you with much to think about.


Be sure to check out Hotel Mumbai, in theaters beginning this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He also contributes to several other film-related websites.

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