Over a decade ago a terrorist attack occurred in Mumbai, India. Over 170 people were murdered and countless more injured. It remains one of the most horrific terrorist attacks of our time, and while it certainly doesn’t feel quite right to view director Anthony Maras’s retelling of those events as entertainment, it does feel like required viewing.
Late at night a group of men pull up in a dinghy on the shores of Mumbai. It’s a peaceful setting – their boat drifts towards the shore and the bustle of the city lies ahead of them, blissfully unaware of the horror the small dinghy brings.
Armed with machine guns and grenades, they make their way into the city, intent on causing as much harm and panic as possible.
Meanwhile, over at the Taj Mahal Palace, guest waiter Arjun (Dev Patel) has just got to work in time to listen to the head chef’s speech on the importance of treating the guests like gods. Guests like David, a rich American who has just checked in with his newborn baby and heiress wife, Zahra, or Vasili (Jason Isaacs), a rich, bolshy Russian.
The terrorists start off by shooting up a cafe, before roaming the streets looking for more victims, eventually landing at the doors of the Taj Mahal. They enter and unleash hell, leading to a 48 hour ordeal for those lucky enough to survive the initial onslaught, but unable to escape the hotel’s confines.
There’s no doubt about it, this is a tough watch. The piercing cracks of gunshots, the realistic instant-deaths of those hit by the bullets, the complete lack of mercy the terrorists display – it all leads to an incredibly uncomfortable experience, where you know Hollywood hope is secondary to the true events the script is borne from.
To his credit writer/ director Maras has attempted to base his fictional characters on events that happened, and while they might be invented, many of the situation are not. Although it’s hard to get away from the feeling that this is exploitative entertainment dressed up as essential viewing.
He’s aided by good casting. Hammer is the strong American, powerless to deal with the horror inflicted on his family, and Dev Patel in particular provides an emotional backbone that makes the events bearable.
If there is a criticism to be had here, it’s that the Indian characters tend to play second fiddle to the likes of Hammer and Isaacs. Although that is not a charge levelled at the terrorists. Un particular Imran (Amandeep Singh), who rails against his belief system and becomes emotionally unstuck as it dawns on him that he might not be justified in what he’s doing.
It’s an extremely well-produced film that achieves what it sets out to do, namely shock an audience with the horror of those events, it’s just hard to call it entertainment when there’s nothing to enjoy here. However it is certainly worthy of respect.
Hotel Mumbai is on general release from Friday 27th of September