Hotel Mumbai: Mass murder dressed up as a 1970s diaster movie

Review: The relentless death is accompanied by dialogue that might have been culled from a low-rent horse opera

Dev Patel in Hotel Mumbai

Film Title: Hotel Mumbai

Director: Anthony Maras

Starring: Dev Patel, Armie Hammer, Nazanin Boniadi, Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Anupam Kher, Jason Isaacs

Genre: Action

Running Time: 123 min

Wed, Sep 25, 2019, 14:59

   

In 2008, a series of callous, co-ordinated terrorist attacks in Mumbai left at least 166 people dead and more than 300 wounded. And now there’s an entirely inappropriate old-school disaster movie, punctuated by many scenes in which people are shot at close range with automatic weapons, over and over, to commemorate the victims. If that sounds tonally confusing, it’s because Hotel Mumbai is, by a rough count, three or four unmarriageable films forced into an unholy union.

Only Dev Patel has the space to shine in an overture defined by hastily introduced and underwritten composite characters. He’s a Sikh waiter with a family, one who needs to borrow his manager’s shoes in order to hold down his job at the luxurious Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. He is, ultimately, joined by wealthy married guests (Armie Hammer and Nazanin Boniadi), the nanny who’s caring for their baby (Tilda Cobham-Hervey), and a brusque (also wealthy) Russian businessman (Jason Isaacs) to form a central cast among the mayhem.

Brief, ghoulish scenes take in the unfolding horrors at a railway station and a cafe and amplify the sense of chaos created by the 10 terrorists who opened fire across 12 locations in the city. Mostly the film sits uncomfortably between Rambo: Last Blood and live-streamed horror.

There’s a terrifically directed and edited scene in which the nanny, hiding from terrorists, has to stifle her charge’s cries. But too often the film is relentless death, accompanied by dialogue that might have been culled from a low-rent horse opera (“If any of you want to back out now, no hard feelings”), without any political or geographical context.

For a film that relies heavily on the 1970s disaster picture, there’s no time to bond with most of the characters and no space to process the killings. Based on the 2009 documentary Surviving Mumbai by Victoria Midwinter Pitt and adapted by screenwriter John Collee and director Anthony Maras, Hotel Mumbai can’t quite decide if it’s docudrama or Volcano.

A final shot, intended to honour the staff, feels more like a commercial for the hotel.