Having once stayed at the elegant hotel Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai, India, before the much-publicized terror attack, I was naturally curious about seeing “Hotel Mumbai,” director Anthony Maras’ take on the coordinated slaughter that occurred in the city of Mumbai in November, 2008. The screenplay was written by John Collee and Maras.
The result is a taut drama that stresses victims and heroes against the background of Islamic terrorists from Pakistan who believe what they are doing will make a difference in the world. There is the ordinary technique of recounting events as hostages are taken and the terrorists become hemmed in, and that is set against the wider background of parallel terrorist actions within the city during four days of carnage.
The basics are laid out in a recounting of what various characters were doing that day. For example, Dev Patel plays Arjun, a waiter who is threatened to be sent home because he is wearing sandals. But his superior relents. The waiter will become a hero.
Foreigners are particularly targeted. They include Armie Hammer as David and Nazanin Boniadi as his wife Zahra. They have a baby, which brings in Tilda Cobham-Hervey as their nanny, Sally. She is to look after the baby as the parents dine in a fancy restaurant at the Taj. You know they all will go through hell.
The trouble with the film is that much is predictable in the saga, in which some 174 people, including terrorists, were killed and 300 wounded in the various operations in Mumbai before the terror could be brought to a halt. One interesting aspect is that the terrorists in the hotel are in touch electronically with their commander who keeps urging them to kill and take hostages, especially foreigners. There are only momentary doubts among the invaders, one of whom may not want to die for the cause.
The film depicts how the counter-attack is hampered by the long delay in forces arriving from Delhi. But the battle rages on, taking us on a suspenseful journey in the various parts of the hotel under siege and the efforts on the part of the staff to find sections of safety for the guests and to free hostages. The events are depicted efficiently, including the massive rescue efforts. In the end one comes away with the chilling realization of how vulnerable society remains when committed terrorists armed to the teeth with guns and explosives are willing to sacrifice their lives to carry out a mission of inflicting the maximum casualties. A Bleecker Street release. Reviewed March 22, 2019.