[Screen It]


(2019) (Dev Patel, Armie Hammer) (R)

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Drama: Various people try to survive a terrorist attack in Mumbai and the taking over of its legendary hotel.
It's late November 2008 and the staff of Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace Hotel -- including waiter Arjun (DEV PATEL) and his boss, head chef Hemant Oberoi (ANUPAM KHER) -- are preparing for the arrival of their latest guests. Among them are Zahra (NAZANIN BONIADI) and her American husband David (ARMIE HAMMER) who are showing up with their newborn child and nanny, Sally (TILDA COBHAM-HERVEY), while wealthy Russian businessman Vasili (JASON ISAACS) is there for less family-friendly reasons.

Unbeknownst to them, a small group of young Muslim men -- including Imran (AMANDEEP SINGH), Ajmal (KAPIL KUMAR NETRA), Abdullah (SUHAIL NAYYAR) and a number of others -- have covertly boated into the city and begun a terrorist attack on various locales, including the local train station. Aussie backpackers Bree (NATASHA LIU BORDIZZO) and Eddie (ANGUS McLAREN) end up caught in one such attack, but manage to escape and head to the hotel for safety, unaware that it's yet another target.

When the gunfire breaks out there Zahra and David worry about Sally and their baby who are several floors above them in their suite, while Bree and Eddie once again find themselves in the crossfire of the attack. Realizing they must protect their guests, Arjun and Hemant then do what they can to get the survivors to safety, all while the local police force finds itself ill-prepared for such an attack, with military forces hours away from arriving to deal with the situation.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
While nearly all movie genres feature offerings containing, one, some or a lot of exaggerated and often non-realistic behavior, action films usually take the cake (and then throw it against a wall, stomp on it and then deliver some sort of action-comedy quip).

After all, while the real world occasionally provides larger than life heroes who save the day in extraordinary circumstances, that's par for the course for most action flicks where our heroes suffer blows that would take out professional boxers and MMA fighters, but just keep on dispatching justice and comeuppance.

Horror films, on the other hand, are more about the victims simply try to survive whatever supernatural entity, serial killer or what have you who/that is trying to end their lives. Sure, some heroics occasionally show up here and there, but for the most part it's a hide, run and get out endeavor.

With that in mind, "Hotel Mumbai" plays out far more like a horror film than an action one. Based on the real-life events that occurred in the Indian city of Mumbai where at least 165 people lost their lives at the hands of terrorists, this offering doesn't have a traditional hero. There's no John McClane who just so happens to be present when things go south and then does what he can to kill all of the bad guys.

Instead, and feeling much like some of the true-life offerings from Paul Greengrass (such as "United 93" and "Bloody Sunday"), this film depicts the fateful incidents -- although it focuses most on what went down in the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel -- most likely as experienced by those there. In other words, it's likely the most harrowing and intense time you'll have at the movies this or of any year in recent memory.

Now, some are complaining that this film -- directed by Anthony Maras from a script he co-wrote with John Collee -- continues the trend of Hollywood's demonizing of Muslims by making them the bad guys, and others are claiming it's exploiting a real-life tragedy for entertainment purposes. For starters, I wouldn't call it entertaining -- this isn't like a thrill ride where you're giddy from the excitement and cathartic release of watching the heroes vanquish the villains. And in real life, the terrorists were Muslim extremists so there's nothing being fictionalized there.

What does get some made up material are some of the characters and their individual stories, although there's not a lot of slack time for character growth and exploration. Instead, and after following one waiter (Dev Patel) go through a hectic morning of getting ready and then being late for work at the hotel and seeing a few tourists -- such as those played by Natasha Liu Bordizzo and Angus McLaren, as well as Nazanin Boniadi and Armie Hammer who arrive with their newborn and nanny (Tilda Cobham-Hervey) in tow -- the film gets right into the heart of the matter.

And those are the attacks carried out by a bunch of poor and radicalized teens and young men (played by the likes of Amandeep Singh, Suhail Nayyar, and Kapil Kumar Netra, among others) who are following verbal directions given to them by their never-seen ringleader.

Once the bullets start flying and the bodies start falling -- in brutal, non-Hollywood glorified fashion -- it's then up to the survivors -- that also include the likes of Anupam Kher playing the head chef and Jason Isaacs as an unsavory Russian businessman -- to try to figure out how to stay alive.

With the large cast and the filmmaker's attention focused on the terrorism, there isn't a great deal of time for the characters to do much beyond responding to their survival instincts. A few stand out, though, including Patel's kitchen staffer character who goes above and beyond the call of duty; Kher as his boss who takes control like a military officer; and Boniadi as a mother who simply wants to be reunited with her family, all while drawing the suspicious eye of other tourists simply for being Muslim like the attackers.

That this is Maras' feature film debut behind the camera is remarkable as he near expertly creates an intense, you are there event picture featuring a myriad of characters and locations within the hotel without losing himself to Hollywood action tropes or reliance on over-editing. I look forward to whatever he next directs.

Playing out like a real-life horror flick where the boogeymen are armed terrorists, "Hotel Mumbai" is as solid an action-thriller as you'd want. But considering it's based on real-life events and the fact that it's super-intense to the point that your shoulders (or other body parts) will likely be sore afterward from the near-unrelenting tension, it's one of those films you really want to recommend but aren't sure you'd ever want to watch again. That said I give it a 7 out of 10.

Reviewed March 4, 2019 / Posted March 29, 2019

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