Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for profanity, bloody images and pervasive violence
Running time: 123 minutes
Production Companies: Thunder Road Pictures / Xeitgeist Entertainment Group / Arclight Films Electric Pictures
Distributors: Bleecker Street
On Nov. 26, 2008, radical Islamists from Pakistan launched a series of coordinated attacks around the city of Mumbai which would claim 174 lives and leave hundreds more wounded. Within hours of the raid, the authorities were able to secure all of the sites except for the legendary Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.
The jihadists ostensibly picked the legendary 5-star resort as the location for a final showdown because of its image as a getaway spot for rich and famous Westerners. The siege there would last four days, since the local police were outgunned by the terrorists who were armed to the teeth with bombs, hand grenades and automatic weapons.
Directed by Anthony Maras, Hotel Mumbai is a harrowing docudrama which recreates the horrific events which transpired inside the Taj. In making his movie, the first-time filmmaker relied heavily on Mumbai Massacre, a 2009 documentary composed of survivors’ recollections of their nightmares.
This fictionalized account, which changes names and conflates characters, primarily revolves around the ordeals of Arjun (Dev Patel) and David (Armie Hammer). The former is a selfless Sikh waiter who exhibits extraordinary heroism in an effort to save as many of the hotel’s traumatized guests as possible. And the latter is a frazzled tourist desperate to reunite with his wife (Nazanin Boniadi), baby and nanny (Tilda Cobham-Hervey).
Besides these protagonists, the film features a profusion of simplistically-drawn supporting players, a la your typical disaster flick. There’s the Russian playboy (Jason Isaacs), an elitist, world-class chef (Anupam Kher), a deferential butler (Alex Pinder), and so forth.
After the motley ensemble is introduced, the burning question left to be answered is which of these trapped victims will be able to remain undiscovered by the bloodthirsty assassins until the Special Forces Unit finally arrives from Delhi, some 800 miles away. For, the terrorist cell in control of the building is portrayed as religious zealots blinded by the prospect of paradise promised by The Bull (Pawan Singh), the operation’s diabolical mastermind.
Yes, the hotel is ultimately retaken and order is restored. Nevertheless, the S.W.A.T. Team’s belated triumph remains overshadowed by the sobering reality of so many lives senselessly lost. In sum, an uplifting tale of heroism and survival, as well as a haunting reminder of the evil that men do.