Australasian Cinema > films > Hotel Mumbai

Hotel Mumbai

Hotel Mumbai (Anthony Maras, 2018) Dev Patel, Armie Hammer, Tilda Cobham-Hervey; dramatisation of 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks on the Taj Mahal hotel

Who’s to blame for popularizing reenactments of real-life terrorist attacks? Should we point the finger at United 93 director Paul Greengrass, or maybe Steven Spielberg’s morally gray Munich a year earlier? The entire genre traces back to Gillo Pontecorvo’s game-changing The Battle of Algiers in 1966, which challenged our ideas of on-screen realism by posing as a cinema vérité newsreel. Even so, such re-creations didn’t become chic until after 9/11, when action movies in which folks such as Sean Connery and Arnold Schwarzenegger saved the day from terrorist plots gave way to those in which successful attacks became the focus.
There’s little doubt that Hotel Mumbai director Anthony Maras has seen all these movies and then some, although what’s not so clear is why he felt compelled to tell the story of the 2008 Mumbai attacks — a series of twelve separate terror incidents that culminated in the bloody siege on the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, where the bulk of the film takes place, and where stars such as Armie Hammer and Dev Patel mix with unknowns to portray how real people reacted to those events. Sitting through the harrowing events again nearly a decade later could hardly be described as entertainment, and the film plays to many of the same unseemly impulses that make disaster movies so compelling, exploiting the tragedy of the situation for spectacle’s sake. Here, Maras’ intent seems to be a chance for audiences to consider that universal question: “What would you do if you found yourself in the same situation?” Peter Debruge, Variety.

While I will understand when some people respond to the 'let’s solve racism road trip' simplicity of Green Book, I actually found the racial politics of Hotel Mumbai much more problematic as it centers white characters in this terrorist attack, casts them with recognizable faces, and then expects us to care about them more than the dozens of Indian extras getting shot in the background just because. Yes, there is also an Indian-born lead in the always-solid Dev Patel, but the biggest problem with Hotel Mumbai is that it is brutal and harrowing and problematic without ever feeling artistically rewarding. You can punish me for two hours, but there needs to be a reason to take the punishment. Brian Tallerico.


Garry Gillard | New: 7 February, 2017 | Now: 9 April, 2019