Real terror expertly re-created in a foreign pleasure dome.
Director: Anthony Maras
Screenplay: Maras, John Collee (Happy Feet)
Cast: Dev Patel (Lion), Armie Hammer (Sorry to Bother You)
Runtime: 2 hr 3 min
By: John DeSando
“The guest is God,” motto of the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai.
Based on a series of terrorist attacks in Mumbai in 2008, Hotel Mumbai captures the siege of a city besieged by gunmen doing an efficient job of killing at least 100 people and shutting down a modern metropolis. The focus is on the fabulous Taj Mahal Hotel, a fitting symbol of modern depravity for these four Pakistani Muslims bent on doing Allah’s vengeance.
Director Anthony Maras, along with other writer John Collee, give s personality to a few of the staff and guests: head chef Hemant Oberoi (Annpam Kher) is courage personified as he guides guests out of the mayhem; head waiter Arjun (Dev Patel) has the smarts and valor to do the same; rich American guest David (Armie Hammer) is fearless defending his family. Throughout, class distinctions between guests and staff are preserved, lending another level of accuracy.
Beyond these notable participants are the other usual stereotypes such as the shady but redeemable Russian, the conscience-stricken terrorist, and the scared sister protecting David’s baby. However, the use of real news footage on TVs keeps us grounded in the reality.
While these formulaic victims are unavoidable in any disaster film, the filmmakers create tension by cutting between the terrorists randomly and coldly dispatching anyone in sight and the besieged hotel denizens. When David’s baby cries in a closet, we fear the terrorists will hear. That’s real tension, real terror.
It’s hard not to place ourselves in that situation and not empathize with the helpless victims and wonder what courage we would show.
Although the women too often cry and many men are cowardly, no way can you leave the theater and not be a little more aware of the vicissitudes of travel abroad and the marvel at your courageous fellow human beings.
Here’s a successful, scary thriller and cautionary tale: Danger is out there, no matter where you go.
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com