With the amount of violence that takes place around the world every single day, it’s impossible to keep up with the headlines from one’s own city, state and country, much less the harrowing incidents that happen thousands of miles away. Who remembers that last November, Boko Haram shot and killed 118 Nigerian soldiers on a military base in the town of Metele or that last summer, Islamic State militants carried out suicide bombings and gun attacks in the city of As-Suwayda, which resulted in the deaths of 258 people?
Truthfully, the ongoing global extremism is as difficult to recall as it is to fully comprehend, so when a filmmaker like first-time feature co-writer and director Anthony Maras revisits one of these frightening experiences in a realistic way like he does with Hotel Mumbai, the film can be tough to shake.
Hotel Mumbai, which is based on the 2009 documentary Surviving Mumbai, tells the fictionalized “true” story of the 2008 terrorists attacks in South Mumbai where 10 Pakistani jihadists executed a series of coordinated explosions and mass shootings, including at a local railway station, movie theater, Jewish center, restaurant, hospital, college and luxury hotel. In all, 174 people were murdered during the three-day killing spree.
In Hotel Mumbai, Maras and co-writer John Collee (Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World) position moviegoers at the center of the bedlam and focus on the terrorists’ takeover of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, where an estimated 450 guests and scores of staff members were inside during the attack. Oscar nominee Dev Patel (Lion) stars as Arjun, one of the hotel’s employees who puts his life on the line in an attempt to save as many hotel guests as possible. Among the visitors: American architect David (Armie Hammer), his Indian wife Zahara (Nazanin Boniadi), their infant child and their nanny Sally (Tilda Cobha-Hervey); also, Vasili (Jason Isaacs), an arrogant Russian businessman, who at one point in the film orders a cognac from a waiter as the assault continues throughout the hotel.
While Isaacs’ character offers little substance to the story, it is Patel’s Arjun who is the heart of the traumatic ordeal. There might be an underlying sense that Maras and Colle have Hollywoodized the script, but there’s no denying the pain and suffering depicted with relentless detail, which can be hard to watch.
Hotel Mumbai doesn’t rise to the same level of some of the most dramatic and emotionally resonating hostage films like 2006’s United 93 or 2013’s Captain Phillips, but the heartlessness behind the attacks is palpable and enraging.
Hotel Mumbai open exclusively at the Santikos Bijou March 28.