It may function ok as a white-knuckle thriller, writes Daniel Rutledge, but don’t expect anything deeper than that.
An intense, documentary-style drama based on the 2008 terrorist attacks on India, Hotel Mumbai is a well-crafted film that’s hard to watch for two reasons—one intentional, the other unfortunate. I don’t think anyone will deny just how impactful Australian director Anthony Maras’s work is. He’s effectively constructed dread-filled sequences that are punctuated with visceral moments of horror.
It’s satisfying on a surface level as a white-knuckle thriller, but don’t expect anything deeper than that. The discomfort and tension that comes from a realistic depiction of a real, recent terrorist attack are exactly what you watch a film like this for. But sadly, as Hotel Mumbai rolls on, it becomes increasingly apparent that it’s a very Australian take on a very Indian tragedy. This makes it an uncomfortable watch in a way you definitely don’t want.
A rather comparable film is Paul Greengrass’s United 93—itself an English filmmaker’s take on a then-recent American tragedy. But that superior work felt less exploitative and sure as hell didn’t emphasise A-list Bollywood stars over a few token American actors, British lead Dev Patel notwithstanding.
With films like this, it’s usually best to curb your own political leanings and just try to experience the story on its own terms with the characters. But sometimes the politics are so unsubtle it’s distracting, and the occasionally preachy Hotel Mumbai suffers that way. There’s also some stupid comic relief, including a rich Russian discussing prostitute nipple size and an extended gag about Muslim terrorists tricking each other into eating pork in between murdering people.
Hotel Mumbai tries to make meaningful statements about the human spirit and Islam, but they’re generally unsophisticated and myopic. That won’t matter to some viewers and for them, along with those who can just ignore the bullshit, this does what it says on the tin and does it bloody well. It’s just a shame that to appreciate the solid filmmaking you have to leave your ethics at the door.