In 2008 on November 26, the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel was subject to a terrorist attack. Countless tourists and locals were trapped in the hotel for three days until Indian special forces took down the gunmen. With his debut feature film, Anthony Maras is able to paint a vivid picture of the tragedy that occurred a decade ago. And at no point does Hotel Mumbai feel as if it is taking advantage of the calamity. Rather, it is a deep look into the humanity that saved countless innocent lives.
The film begins by introducing and arranging all the characters into place fairly quickly. The expert pacing is evident from the first moments. Concurrent events occur without jumping around too much, which speaks to the rest of the film narrative. What sticks out most in the first act of the film is the dedication to the hotel. To the employees, it is more than a hotel. A phrase that holds bearing from the film is uttered early on. In the eyes of the staff, “Guest is God.” If this motto seems like frivolous writing at first, Maras is quick to show that it could not be more true. Once the gunmen reach the hotel, viewers are constantly reminded how pivotal this is to the crux of the film.
Dev Patel is leading the film, and beautifully portrays a courageous hero desperately trying to survive. And although he has everything to lose, at no point does he falter in the face of adversity. Instead, he is shown to once again put the guest above all else. Anupam Kher plays the head chef of the hotel, and quickly takes charge in assisting any survivors. He tells his staff that those who feel they must leave to return to their families at home will not be looked down upon. It is at this moment that one of the butlers exclaims that the hotel is his home. The script, with moments like these, brilliantly highlights the underlying theme of the film repeatedly throughout its runtime.
As the first act builds, the dynamic between hotel guests and everybody else is overtly emphasized. This theme of Hotel Mumbai is in the hands of those portraying the staff, and that is when the film is at its best. However, as we begin to follow the guests of the hotel is when the film loses its footing. Armie Hammer and Nazanin Boniadi arrive at the hotel with their newborn son. While they both give great performances and are easy to sympathize with, it’s difficult to not compare their subplot to a film that feels by the books.
Jason Isaacs is also introduced as a playboy with a clear disregard for others. His character also seems like one of very few missteps this film has. Through his actions early on, it is made evident that we are not supposed to particularly relate to his character. Isaacs does have a few moments of redemption in the film, yet they are constantly repealed. The end result feels like a character that did not have a full direction overall. Rather, he was the occasional comic relief, which is arguably the only other problem Hotel Mumbai faces.
In the early moments of the film, there is humor that is well crafted and fits within the context. Maras is allowing the audience to relate more for a larger emotional payoff. However, when the gunmen are in extended scenes purely there for comedic intent, it becomes an extremely odd choice. It seems that Maras wants to humanize all parties involved within the attack, including the gunmen themselves. He does highlight that the gunmen are young boys who have been manipulated into committing this heinous act quite effectively. However, it does not make the act of violence any less evil, and thus, these moments of humor are extremely off-putting.
Finally, from a technical level, Hotel Mumbai truly thrives. From very early on, the sound mixing in this film makes itself known. An explosion makes way for a disorienting ringing that lingers on. Bullets echo loudly throughout the hotel and you hear them approaching or distancing themselves. By the end of this film, the silence feels as harrowing as when guns are being fired. There is never a moment that lacks suspense. There are also many tight angles and some editing that allow for a more visceral experience. Hotel Mumbai is clearly crafted with a lot of care, and has something to say about humans. For Maras’ debut feature film, he is off to a great start and should be on everyone’s radar.
Let us know in the comments why you’re looking forward to Hotel Mumbai!
Bleecker Street is releasing Hotel Mumbai in theaters on March 22nd, 2019.