Saturday, August 10, 2019

Movie Reviews: Hotel Mumbai

Hotel Mumbai
directed by Anthony Maras
Hotel Mumbai was Maras' directorial debut. Maras is a cousin of Nick Mamatas (author of I am Providence, reviewed here) and of the Greek singer Eleftheria Arvanitaki, which I guess if nothing else shows that talent does run in families. 

There are some people who wouldn't see the point of this 2018 film and others who wouldn't like it because of its similarity to recent real life attacks by young men with similar hateful beliefs as those depicted here. Some people complained that the white people got too much emphasis at the expense of the South Asian or West Asian actors. I was on guard and looking for that when I went in but I honestly didn't see it at all.  Sometimes those are automatic and incorrect complaints. 

Hotel Mumbai is a fictionalized retelling of the 2008 Pakistani Islamic terrorist attacks in Mumbai. It is violent, though I don't think it fetishizes bloodshed. Watching it I was left with a sense of regret at how fragile life can be and how seductive the call of grievance and hatred often is. This is thus, in many aspects, a horror movie with a heart. 

If you're just not a person who can tolerate any violence then this film isn't for you. It is in my opinion an exciting movie and one that will make you think about the nature of heroism. There is plenty of heroism in this film though not in the way that action film audiences have come to expect it. 

There is no cool macho undercover cop who has his backup gun with him and turns the tables on the terrorist hostage takers. There is no coldly professional Special Forces operative who swiftly creates improvised explosive devices from ingredients found in a janitor's closet and proceeds to wreck the terrorists' day in way they could never have imagined.

There is no beautiful genius vacationing biochemist who will synthesize skin contact poison from houseplants with which she will kill the terrorists. Neither Liam Neeson nor Denzel Washington show up to throat chop and body slam terrorists into whimpering submission. Nope these people at the hotel are on their own. They are all just regular people who will be forced into horrible situations.

The randomness of the attacks give the viewer a "you are here" experience which the movie never gives up. The movie probably doesn't have a standout star but certainly the fellow who gets the most screen time is Arjun (Dev Patel) a staff member/waiter at the Taj hotel who happens to be running late to work that day. But with a wife, a child and another child on the way Arjun can't afford to blow off work, even if in his rush to work he forgets his shoes and has to show up with sandals, much to the disgust of his by the book boss, head chef Hemant Oberoi (Anupam Kher).

Also arriving at the hotel are the British-Iranian heiress Zahra (Nazanin Boniadi), her White American husband David (Arnie Hammer) and their new baby and nanny.  

The socially conservative Indian hotel staff is somewhat scandalized that Zahra's new baby is older than Zahra's marriage but as professionals they will keep their opinions to themselves. Another guest of note is Vasili (Jason Isaacs) a horny Russian military veteran who's interested in setting up a party with some paid by the hour women. The blunt Vasili doesn't really see any point in keeping his opinions to himself.

As these people check into the hotel, around Mumbai the terrorists are moving into position. They are all young men, true believers in a violent interpretation of their religion, eager to avenge themselves upon the infidels who they believe are the cause of their humiliation. And a handful of them are heading to the Taj hotel. This movie does not sympathize with the callous killers, but it does show that like it or not they are human. They have their own set of quirks and issues, whether it be one terrorist playing a practical joke on a comrade by falsely telling him he ate pork or more soberly, a wounded terrorist realizing that his never seen Pakistani handler is not going to give his impoverished family money after he dies.

This is the kind of movie that will make you think about what you would do in that situation. We often think that heroism is rising up to do violence in a good cause, but these hotel workers, especially Arjun and Oberoi, go above and beyond what anyone could have expected from people who are unarmed and aren't police or soldiers. Whether it be shielding a co-worker or guest, trying to figure out where the gunmen are, refusing to be bait even at the cost of their lives, or even refusing to leave the hotel when they had the chance, the hotel workers demonstrate incredible heroics. And so do some of the guests.

This attack revealed not only the depths of depravity to which some people will sink, in this case inspired by religion, but the glory to which some people will rise, in their struggle to do the right thing and stay alive.
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