Locally, Anthony Maras’ debut feature, Hotel Mumbai, should be considered a huge achievement for the South Australian Film Industry. Opening the Adelaide Film Festival in late 2018, it marks a high quality film that is polished, well-acted and features an international cast with some well-known names – perhaps the reason it has a comparatively large a platform overseas.
Obviously a recreation of the terrorist attack on the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in 2008, also based on the 2009 documentary Surviving Mumbai, the majority of this film is an incredibly realistic and believable portrayal of a terrorist attack. To achieve this incredibly convincing action, director/co-writer Maras poured through intercepted phone conversations and witness statements. An intelligent decision that is felt for the entire film as the terrified characters hide from convincing terrorists.
There are many disconcerting moments as the terrorists who are willing to die in order to kill as many people as they can slowly prowl the halls of the up-scale hotel. Perhaps the best decision behind the scenes to create such confronting moments, such as the terrorists, stone-faced for the entire film, casually walking through the corridors of the hotel with assault rifles ready, opening each door and firing without hesitation.
Also disturbing is just how young these men are, and further from that, how indoctrinated they have been in such a short time. A sad reality for counties dealing with this problem internally or close by.
A hotel proves to be a perfect location as most of film is convincingly shot within this one building and the size of the hotel (amazingly recreated in Adelaide studios) allows multiple story strands to unfold in different parts of the hotel.
One major part of the film is the brave head cook (Anupam Kher) and lowly waiter Arjun (Dev Patel) who protect the swarm of people now trying to hide, and both use their knowledge of the large building to their advantage to plan an escape. Jason Isaacs plays a Russian character with an inconsistent accent and some sort of background allows him to help the group, but there is no room to explore his past. Armie Hammer is also excellent playing a much more intense role in a different part of the hotel, but we don’t know him.
But, despite being a main character, waiter Arjun is a two-dimensional person. The same can be said for every character in the film. Even the nanny Sally, played by local Adelaide-based actress Tilda Cobham-Hervey, who arguably has some of the more tense and challenging scenes, isn’t filled in as a character. While everything happening around them is fantastically realised, no character is particularly memorable as their backgrounds are barely explored, making it hard to genuinely care about them.
Or perhaps extensive character development is too much to ask of a film that focuses on and realises every other aspect of the film with precision.
Interestingly, the film also either accidentally or intentionally makes a point about how race or religion dissipate when humans are forced into a situation like this, which offers up many questions to chew on. Are these the only situations where any person no matter their creed can bond with anyone else? A depressing notion, but it is there.
Hotel Mumbai excels for the most part in what it is recreating, however it doesn’t offer anything new to the genre. It is however the best terrorist attack film recreation in recent years, with many hard to watch scenes combined with lulls in the action that are expertly placed to keep the viewer on their toes. And there is one pervading question that lingers over most of the film: what would I have done?’
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