Terrorism drama, rated R, Violet Crown, in English and multiple languages with subtitles, 2.5 chiles
This methodical account of the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai hits theaters in the wake of the horrific March 16 shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand. Out of sensitivity to the rawness of feelings in New Zealand, the movie’s opening there has been postponed. No such delicacy pertains here.
Religion lay at the heart of both massacres. The Mumbai killings were the work of Islamic fanatics. In Christchurch, Islamic worshippers were the targets. And religion hovers in various ways over writer-director Anthony Maras’ graphic re-enactment of the attacks on multiple sites in Mumbai. His focus is on the three-day slaughter at the city’s Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, where, as a hotel employee observes, “Here at the Taj, the guest is god.”
The movie begins in a small boat on open water. Ten young men listen through earbuds to the voice of an unseen commander: “God is with you. Paradise awaits.” They land, disperse, and kill.
A luxury hotel is a natural for this kind of attack, both for the killers and the filmmakers, with its upstairs/downstairs hierarchy, its gilded opulence, and its privileged and pampered guests (we see the temperature of bathwater being taken by staff, and pronounced just right, although the visitors are just arriving and not quite ready yet to pop into the suds). For marquee purposes, the hotel guest list includes Armie Hammer as an American architect traveling with his Muslim wife (Nazanin Boniadi), and their baby and nanny. Another VIP is a Russian businessman who sits in the ornate hotel dining room arranging by cellphone for a couple of hookers to be delivered to his room. He’s played by the rugged Jason Isaacs with muted heroics, in a role that in a fiction movie would go to the more brazen Bruce Willis.
The Indian contingent is headed by Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) as a waiter, and Anupam Kher (Silver Linings Playbook) as the hotel’s real-life head chef, Hemant Oberoi. Both are excellent, believably representing the heroism that was displayed by members of the Taj staff.
Essentially, the movie is a sustained attack on the senses and the nerves, with cold-blooded killings piled one on top of the other by dead-eyed sociopathic fanatics following disembodied instructions from their cult leader in Pakistan, and blasting away in the name of God. Hotel Mumbai takes a real-life horror and fits it to the form and trappings of an action film.