Hotel Mumbai review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Based on true events, Hotel Mumbai is a film so blunt and uncomfortable that I dare say its ultimate meaning becomes lost in a sea of grit and bullets. The film documents the horrific events of a 2008 assault on a hotel in Mumbai, where Islamic terrorists invaded with automatic weapons and grenades, aiming to make their voices heard. The result is a film that teeters between being as raw for the same eyes as United 93 and as uncomfortably anger-inducing as London Has Fallen.
Similar to the construction of United 93, we’re introduced to a slew of average people who will just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. We meet a tourist couple, a couple with a baby, a butler with a baby, and a hotshot elite. All of them converge at the hotel and we watch as some have the opportunity to the night off either work or staying in to stay behind. On this fateful day, however, a band of young Islamist terrorists stroll into towns and begin their massacre. Under orders from their unseen mastermind, they kill as many people as they can in the name of Allah, doing so coldly. They slip into the hotel and violence breaks out as the inhabitants scurry to find a way out.
While the film never goes into a Die Hard mode of trying to better wrap around the flawed ideology of the terrorists, thus instigating unhealthy views of an entire people, I must admit I appreciated the film making the attempt to make the villains both cold and human at the same time. This comes as a bit of a surprise as we only know them for most of the film as soldiers for Allah, adhering to orders with religious peppering and never questioning them. Then, as almost as if by mercy to shake things up, we learn that one of the terrorists, wounded, has lied to his father about what he is doing. Though the young terrorist believes in his actions, he has doubts that come forth in an emotional breakdown. He breaks down even further when one of the hostages prays in front of him and he can’t bring himself to kill her. After all, she believes the same thing he does. How can he reason doing to the right thing in his name of religion?
Though that scene is certainly the highlight, it comes sandwiched between a gritty, brutal, and anger-inducing experience of terrorists. An aloof reasoning might lead one to believe the film is merely a thrill experience, seemingly so with the cowering survivors including a noble father, terrified woman with a baby, a racist grandma, and a cocky hotshot who loudly orders prostitutes in the restaurant. But keep in mind these are true events. What message should we take away from such a film? Mere awareness would be better suited for a documentary. While there is certainly more humanity that could be extracted, what does this say about violence? What does it say it about religious violence? What does it say about India?
Hotel Mumbai becomes such a draining experience that by the end of the picture I felt sick in more ways than one. Not merely for how cruel such an event was but how little else can be said about it in such a picture. The epilogue of real footages comes so bittersweet that the only thing I felt most thankful for besides life is that Michael Bay didn’t direct such a picture. You just know that religious and racial angle would’ve been amped up to blindsided bloodlust had a more action-oriented and redblooded dude been at he helm. This film thankfully never becomes that kind of patriotic puke but it doesn’t give much reason to exist as it is already.