Hotel Mumbai (4 stars)

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A real-life atrocity is brought agonisingly to the screen in Anthony Maras's nail-biting thriller

As fresh atrocities wash images of previous horrors from the news cycle, Hotel Mumbai arrives to stoke memories of one particular mass shooting. Debut helmer Anthony Maras has pulled together an international co-production with audience-friendly names and a straightforward intent: to dramatise the 2008 Taj Mahal Palace Hotel massacre, one of a series of co-ordinated attacks by members of Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Gunmen make their way into the Mumbai hotel, firing high-powered weapons indiscriminately, they walk through the crowded lobby. A waiter, Arjun (Dev Patel), manages to protect some of the guests, who end up trapped in one of the hotel's lounges. Also amongst those fighting to escape are ex-Russian special forces operative Vasili (Jason Isaacs), whose path crosses with an American, David (Armie Hammer), who is trying to protect his wife and child.

Hotel Mumbai is a brutal film to watch; it's as relentless as the terrorists it depicts – the guests' fightback barely lands a punch. Although the film's publicity plays on the use of actual transcripts, many of the tropes seem familiar from Hollywood movies; even Arjun's lost shoes evoke Bruce Willis in Die Hard. But the storyline develops more interestingly, with its unusual insistence on depicting the minutiae of a human catastrophe. When the gunmen finally get caught, there's no catharsis, no satisfaction after what has occurred.

Maras's film has met with a fairly muted response thus far (it premiered at 2018's Toronto International Film Festival and has already been widely released internationally), and yet it makes and fulfils a basic promise. Without context or explanation, it depicts agonising events and pays tribute to the dead. Best considered in the style of Gus Van Sant's Elephant or Paul Greengrass's United 93, Hotel Mumbai does an effective job of forcing the audience to imagine what it feels like to be on the end of the barrel of a gun.

Selected release and on Sky Cinema from Fri 27 Sep.

Hotel Mumbai

  • 4 stars
  • 2019
  • Australia / USA
  • Directed by: Anthony Maras
  • Cast: Dev Patel, Armie Hammer, Nazanin Boniadi
  • UK release: 3 May 2019

The true story of the 2008 Taj Mahal Palace Hotel massacre, in which waiter Arjun (Patel) struggles to protect the guests. Brutal and relentless and with no catharsis, but it depicts agonising events and pays tribute to the dead in the manner of Gus Vant Sant’s Elephant or Paul Greengrass’ United 93.

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