Hotel Mumbai (2018) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): A brutal docudrama on the 2008 Mumbai Attacks

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“Hotel Mumbai” intends to be a vivid, intense, and disturbing presentation of the 2008 Mumbai Attacks, and it succeeds to some degree although I feel rather ambivalent about its overall result. While it is often gripping and chilling as depicting what happened on that terrible day in Mumbai, it occasionally seems to be on the verge of exploitation, and I often wondered whether the movie is really necessary, even though I was often captivated by its numerous intense moments during my viewing.

During the opening part, the movie puts us right into what was about to happen in Mumbai on November 26th, 2008. A bunch of young members of the Lashkar-e-Taiba Islamist militia sneak into Mumbai by a boat, and then, as instructed by their handler, they separately prepare themselves for executing a series of terror attacks at a number of crowded sites in the city including the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus railway station, which was the first one to be attacked as shown in the film.

Meanwhile, we see how everything looks fine and usual at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel at the same time. We see David (Armie Hammer) and his wife Zahra (Nazanin Boniadi) arriving at the hotel with their little baby, and we also observe how that day does not begin well for Arjun (Dev Patel), a young hotel staff member who happens to lose his shoes while leaving his shabby family home and has no choice but to wear the ones to which his poor feet do not fit well.

After leaving their baby to their young nanny, David and Zahra go to a restaurant in the hotel supervised by chef Hemant Oberoi (Anupam Kher), and it looks like they are going to have a lovely evening there, but then they and many other people in the hotel are suddenly thrown into a very dangerous situation. Shortly after causing a pandemonium outside the hotel, four armed terrorists come into the hotel along with lots of scared people, and then they immediately start their another attack, which results in the death of many unfortunate people who happen to be around them.

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The guests in the restaurant manage to hide from the terrorists because of Arjun’s quick response, and they later come to a safer place thanks to Oberoi and other hotel staff members, but David and Zahra cannot help but concerned about their baby and nanny, who are stuck in their hotel room as the terrorists begin to go around inside the hotel to kill more people. David eventually decides that he must do something for saving their baby and nanny, but he soon come to see that he may get himself killed at any moment no matter how much he tries to be careful in every step.

Meanwhile, the movie also shows what is going on outside the hotel. The local police quickly arrive, but they are not prepared well enough to deal with the situation, and the Special Forces unit from Delhi has not arrived yet. When they try to enter the hotel at one point, they are soon attacked by the terrorists, and many people in the hotel become more desperate as the terrorists subsequently enter the final stage of their plan.

Busily juggling many different characters during its first half, the movie, which is inspired by the 2009 documentary film “Surviving Mumbai”, keeps maintaining the level of tension and suspense on the screen, and it often strikes us hard with those callous acts of violence committed by the terrorists. Constantly driven by their handler’s virulent fanaticism, they are quite determined to kill as much as they can, and this horrific attitude of theirs makes a gut-chilling contrast with a brief but morbidly silly moment reflecting their banality of evil.

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As entering its second half, the movie attempts to add more tension and suspense to the story as focusing more on the bravery of some of its main characters against the terrorists, and that is where the movie begins to falter. While the eventual climactic sequence is certainly as intense and gritty as expected, I was disturbed a lot by how this sequence is blatantly and graphically presented on the screen, and that unpleasant impression did not go away from my mind even during the following epilogue part accompanied with relief and, yes, some healing process.

The main performers in the movie dutifully fill their respective archetype roles. While Armie Hammer and Nazanin Boniadi bring some humanity to their characters, Jason Isaacs is mostly stuck with his thankless role, Dev Patel holds his spot well with his earnest performance despite a few heavy-handed scenes including a small conversation scene between his character and one of the terrified hotel guests. In case of Anupam Kher, he effortlessly exudes calm, benevolent authority during his several big moments, and you may come to wish that the movie would be more about his character and other hotel staff members.

In conclusion, “Hotel Mumbai” is competent in technical aspects, and director/co-writer/co-editor Anthony Maras, who wrote the screenplay with John Collee, did a commendable job of throwing us into the chaos and horror of the 2008 Mumbai Attacks, but I still hesitate to recommend it due to its ethically questionable storytelling approach. Sure, it is not supposed to be a feel-good movie at all, but it merely presents atrocities without enough tact and consideration, and that still bothers me even at this point.

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