Rated R. In English, Hindi, Punjabi, Russian, Arabic and others with subtitles. At AMC Loews Boston Common, Kendall Square Cinema and suburban theaters.
A reenactment of the 2008 attack on Mumbai’s Taj Mahal Palace Hotel by Muslim extremists armed with assault rifles and grenades, “Hotel Mumbai,” a film by first-time feature director Anthony Maras, has power backed up by authenticity.
The film, which has been pulled from theaters in New Zealand, is reminiscent of Paul Greengrass’ “United 93” and his more recent misfire “22 July.” “Hotel Mumbai” celebrates the courage of the hotel staff. But does it do anything besides take those events and the people who lived and died and turn them into a real-life variation on a theme of “Die-Hard”?
Dev Patel, who also served as an executive producer and can also be seen currently in the film noir “The Wedding Guest,” is Arjun, a young Sikh father and husband, eager to please the hotel’s demanding, deeply paternal head chef Hemant Oberoi (award-winning Indian actor Anupam Kher). But Arjun has a hard time since he lost a shoe caring for the couple’s infant and has to borrow a pair much too small to work at the hotel.
At the same time, rich and beautiful married couple David (Armie Hammer) and Zahra (Iranian-British Nazanin Boniadi of TV’s “Homeland”), their infant and British nanny Sally (a very good Tilda Cobham-Hervey) are being shown the lavish suite they will inhabit, just before David and Zahra leave Sally and the baby for a nice lunch alone in the hotel restaurant.
There they encounter a brutish, foul-mouthed Russian oligarch (Jason Isaacs, whose accent did not do it for me), who is ordering prostitutes and drugs for his room on his phone. While all of this is happening, a group of young men with backpacks and duffel bags arrive in Mumbai by dinghy.
These young men are uneducated zealots from the impoverished Pakistani countryside, who are in contact by cellphone with their older handler nicknamed “the Bull.” The handler tell the men exactly what to do and who to kill and when from the safety of Pakistan. The young men balk at killing some fellow Muslims, but the Bull tells them it is “all right.” The families of the fighters are supposedly going to be paid handsomely for the blood of their sons and brothers, who will, of course, go to Islamic heaven for their efforts. The religious propaganda is, as usual, vile. Soon, the hotel is on fire (these images are the real thing plus CGI), and the guests are cowering in their rooms or being shot point-blank.
Meanwhile, Mumbai police have been told to wait for commandos from Delhi, hours away, before storming the hotel. Gripping? Certainly. Some of the performances are stand-outs, too. But one wonders if enough insight and complexity was brought to this subject by an award-winning Australian director and Scottish co-screenwriter John Collee (“Master and Commander”)?
Isaacs’ Russian redeems himself. But the murderers are left almost completely undeveloped as characters. They are unfeeling, unthinking, young psycho-bots. Patel’s Arjun, who, like one-percenter David, worries most about his wife and child, rises to the occasion, using his wits and bravery to save guests from the killers.
Kher’s aristocratic chef knows the hotel best of all and where to hide. He is the film’s beating heart. Many of the hotel’s staff really stayed behind and died when offered a chance to leave in order to protect the guests. “Hotel Mumbai” celebrates that sacrifice. But otherwise the film left me depressed.
(“Hotel Mumbai” contains extreme violence, gruesome images and profanity.)
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