It is really easy to adopt an opinion and then make a film which echoes that opinion. It is, therefore, refreshing when a filmmaker actually chooses to provide a balanced view and let audiences make what they wish of it. Hotel Mumbai does just that, and even though it may drive viewers crazy looking for the movie’s angle or message, they will only receive the unexpected message at the very end.
Hotel Mumbai tells the true story of attacks on several locations in Mumbai, India, in 2008, but mainly focuses on The Taj Hotel where hundreds of staff members and guests are trapped as four terrorists with machine guns go on a killing spree, with law enforcement long hours away. The film follows a different range of characters from the staff, the guests, and even the terrorists themselves as some try to survive and others try to kill.
The film’s plot may seem like another terrorist attack feature, but it is not, it is very different from most terrorist attack movies.
Firstly, Hotel Mumbai provides so many details to its subplots, as well as the terrorising scenes that embellish the plot and make it much more than just a standard “terrorists attack, people die, police come in, people are saved”.
Secondly, it captivates its audience to the point of having them constantly holding their breath from the beginning to the end, and throughout the picture. There is a lot of violent content and a few graphic scenes, which strike a balance between being realistic and being watchable.
Hotel Mumbai also manages to disperse into different subplots, provide background, and cleverly incorporate real-life footage, all while maintaining a cohesive plot and brisk pace that almost never gets boring; just before you think “is it just more of this for the next hour?” the film throws a curveball at you and changes direction.
A crucial point about Hotel Mumbai is that it does not take sides. Instead, the filmmakers try to depict the incident with as much objectivity as possible, humanising guests, staff, and even the terrorists, in a realistic manner. Even at the end of the film, where the aftermath of the attack is shown, the filmmakers choose to end the movie with a hopeful rebuilding rather than a hateful blaming.
Another point is that Hotel Mumbai gives us just enough characterisation to have us care about the characters. The characterisation is not too strong, as there are several subplots each with a number of characters, and the film actually does have a plot to get to, but it relies on its cast to captivate audiences and get them to care for the characters.
As for the acting, Dev Patel plays a courageous waiter in one of the hotel’s restaurants, and his performance was amazing but also very subtle; Patel was able to convey so much emotion and unspoken words, merely with his facial expressions. Playing the responsible head chef who will do anything to protect the guests, Anupam Kher also gave a subtly great performance that evoked a lot of respect from audiences towards his character. Playing a newlywed couple, Nazanin Boniadi and Armie Hammer both gave good performances with Boniadi’s seeming much more realistic and Hammer’s seeming somewhat naïve and superficially heroic.
Hotel Mumbai is not for everyone; it is not a crowd pleaser, it contains very violent content, will leave audiences tense even after it is over, and it does not adopt a point of view. However, for some, it just may be a really amazingly made film that is definitely worth the watch.