Hotel Hell

Enjoy Relentlessly Violent Depictions of Jihadist Attacks? Have We Got a Movie for You!

I saw the Hotel Mumbai movie. Based very tightly on a brutal and hideous 2008 jihadist attack upon a legendary Indian hotel, this film offers up more death, horror, and blood than any slasher feature. It contains no camp and no fun, just grim slaughter and grimmer survival. Everyone sweats and cries a lot. No luxury garment goes unstained.

HOTEL MUMBAI ★★★★ (4/5 stars)
Directed by: Anthony Maras
Written by: John Collee, Anthony Maras
Starring: Dev Patel, Armie Hammer, Nanazin Boniadi, Jason Isaacs, Anupam Kher
Running time: 123 min


Hotel Mumbai falls into the category of real-life terrorism movies in which nothing goes well, like Flight 93, Captain Phillips, and, most recently, Paul Greengrass’ 22 July. The Australian filmmaker who subjects us to this anti-party, Anthony Maras, films everything close and claustrophobic, using TV news footage to draw out a wider lens. We can feel the walls close in as death draws near and gore splatters the hotel columns. The viscera feels visceral.

But while 22 July got its killing done in the first half-hour, Hotel Mumbai contains no coda or search for justice. It bypasses the Hollywood formulas. At no point does John McLane crash through the skylight. The terrorists occupy much of the narrative, controlled by a sinister unseen force from Pakistan. They’re mostly brutal automatons, though one of them looks so much like Kumail Nanjiani that I kept thinking “is that Kumail Nanjiani? and am I racist for thinking so?” It wasn’t, and I’m probably not.

Armie Hammer is not Batman in Hotel Mumbai.

If a similar attack had happened in any U.S. city, a SWAT team would have descended upon the building in 15 minutes. But the Mumbai police prove useless, and Special Forces are 800 miles away. Inside the hotel, white saviors, even when Armie Hammer and Jason Isaacs play them, don’t emerge. Instead, our heroes are ordinary hotel employees who sacrifice everything to protect their rich guests. Dev Patel, always circling awards season, comes closest to a heroic role as a Sikh waiter who displays extraordinary courage and nobility even though he has everything to lose.

Critics of the movie have said it “glorifies” terrorism. In fact, New Zealand pulled the movie after the Christchurch mosque shooting. But in that case, Muslims did the dying. In Hotel Mumbai, Muslims do the killing. Governments shouldn’t censor a movie like this. This kind of death can come for anyone, at any time, at any hand. The safest choice would be not to go to restaurants, or hotels, or Las Vegas, or the Bataclan. Stay home and have your groceries delivered.

Of course, that’s not the answer. Hotel Mumbai doesn’t exploit. It chronicles the randomness of violence, and the ordinary heroism and decency of people forced to confront terrorism. Everyone should see this movie, because it could happen to you. But no one will, because Hotel Mumbai is horrible to watch and tough to love. We go to the movies to see the good guys win and true love triumph. No one wants to watch rich old ladies get gunned down unstylishly on the bidet.

This concludes my review of the Hotel Mumbai movie.

We’re going to have such a nice stay at the Hotel Mumbai!

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Neal Pollack

Book and Film Globe Editor in Chief Neal Pollack is the author of 12 semi-bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction, including the memoirs Alternadad and Stretch, the novels Repeat and Downward-Facing Death, and the cult classic The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer for both film and television, Neal has written articles and humor for every English-language publication except The New Yorker. Neal lives in Austin, Texas, and is a three-time Jeopardy! champion.

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