VOD film review: Hotel Mumbai
James R | On 27, Sep 2019
Director: Antony Maras
Cast: Dev Patel
Watch Hotel Mumbai online in the UK: Sky Cinema / NOW / Prime Video )(Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
“Based on true events” isn’t a phrase you associate with exciting action blockbusters, which tend to offer loud, unsubtle thrills rather than thoughtful and respectful reconstructions of actual people and occurrences. But Hotel Mumbai is an unexpectedly bracing ride, managing to serve up thrills and do so with a surprising amount of thought.
The film retells the dramatic attacks on Mumbai in 2008, which culminated in a stand-off within the iconic Taj Palace Hotel. The movie walls us step by step through the siege, from the terrorists preparing to donate bombs around the city to the hotel staff readying for just another day at work. The attacks, when they do come, are shockingly blunt and brief, sending people scattering from train stations, cafes and shops – a staccato burst of horror that leaves you nervously anticipating when the next volley of violence might erupt.
If that sounds unsubtle, though, Hotel Mumbai resists Hollywood conventions and makes sure that our eyes onto events isn’t an American tourist but Arjun (Dev Patel), the well-meaning waiter who is almost sent away from his shift because he doesn’t have the right shoes. Patel has proved himself repeatedly to be one of the most charismatic leading men around, from Slumdog Millionaire to Lion, and his charm is out in full force here, from Arjun’s concern for his wife and baby back home to his interactions with stern head chef Hemant (a scene-stealing Anupam Kher).
There are wealthy tourists to be found, including Armie Hammer as a clueless American boyfriend of Zahra (Nazanin Boniadi), the only Muslim woman caught in the hostage crisis. Jason Isaacs also has a lot of fun as a dubious Russian businessman, whose gruff exterior hides a compassionate streak. While they each get their moments, though, the focus is on Arjun and the attackers. They, crucially, aren’t nameless, two-dimensional villains, but young boys talked through every step of their actions by a manipulative voice on the end of a telephone. They’re even surprised to see flushing toilets in the hotel rooms, as they stalk from door to door with weapons.
It’s that kind of decision that gives Hotel Mumbai a dose of nuance – not a huge amount of nuance, but just enough to ground things. A speech between Arjun and one racist guest is a prime example, managing to cure her bigoted views in a matter of seconds, which is at once overly simplistic and yet a gesture that a lesser, exploitative film wouldn’t have bothered to include.
The result is a hostage situation played out with a straight face and deceptive earnestness, a combination that gives this a Die Hard-like vibe that Antony Maras and co-writer John Collee lean into. One sequence involving a receptionist on the phone is genuinely nail-biting, while attempts to keep a baby silent are cheesy, but undeniably tense. The use of news footage to seamlessly accompany the luscious hotel interiors adds to the grit and suspense, which doesn’t let up for the two-hour runtime – and given the subject matter, that’s an impressive feat in itself. Hotel Mumbai isn’t the most considered film based on true events, but it’s a refreshingly considerate thriller; this is a blockbuster that’s just big, and just clever, enough.
Hotel Mumbai is available on Sky Cinema. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW, as part of an £11.99 NOW Cinema Membership subscription – with a 14-day free trial.