Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Dev Patel, Armie Hammer, Nazanin Boniadi, Anupam Kher, Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Jason Isaacs, Alex Pinder, Amandeep Singh, Suhail Nayyar, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Angus McLaren, Yash Trivedi, Vipin Sharma, Manoj Mehra, Carmen Duncan
Written by: John Collee, Anthony Maras
Directed by: Anthony Maras
MPAA Rating: R for disturbing violence throughout, bloody images, and language
Running Time: 123
Date: 03/22/2019
IMDB

Hotel Mumbai (2019)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Do Not Disturb

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Based on the horrific real-life events of 2008, this thriller is skillfully made, but its use of creaky cliches and wrongheaded exploitation feels questionable at best, and, at worst, objectionable.

In Hotel Mumbai, it's 2008 and just another day at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in India. Kitchen worker Arjun (Dev Patel) is late for work and has forgotten his shoes, so must squeeze into a too-small spare pair. Head chef Hemant Oberoi (Anupam Kher) inspects the staff and reminds them that the "guest is god." American David (Armie Hammer) arrives and checks in with his wife Zahra (Nazanin Boniadi), their new baby and their nanny (Tilda Cobham-Hervey).

As David and Zahra dine, a group of young terrorists invade the hotel and begin shooting everyone in sight. Arjun comes up with a plan to get everyone in the restaurant to the hotel's super-secret private club, while David decides to sneak back upstairs to try to rescue the baby. Meanwhile, local police do their best to stop the violence while waiting for backup. But the shocking atrocity shows no signs of stopping anytime soon.

Making his feature debut, co-writer and director Anthony Maras clearly wants to pay tribute to those that risked their lives that day to help others, and Hotel Mumbai includes the expected epilogue, showing footage of the real-life survivors, heroically returning to work, refusing to be terrorized. That aside, however, the rest of the movie has an uneasy feeling. While watching the white hero (Hammer) sneak around the opulent hallways, trying to avoid gunfire, it's easy to recall similar, popcorn-munching, shaky-cam thrillers and, at the same time, difficult to forget the actual tragedy that this situation is based on.

It's a troubling mix. Maras includes such devices as Patel's ill-fitting shoes (echoing Die Hard's barefoot hero), while failing to use them for anything in particular. Mini-stories within the larger narrative — such as an older, white, racist lady who starts to accuse anyone with brown skin of being a terrorist — are intended to ramp up the tension, but merely feel tacked on, as if they were mini-lessons the audience must learn.

Plus, by attempting to focus on a wide variety of characters, Maras winds up exploring none of them, and each situation merely becomes a wince-inducing waiting game, sickly anticipating the next explosion or noisy burst of gunfire. The wait, all 123 minutes of it, is unforgivably long, and the payoff isn't worth the effort.

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