In 2008, ten Pakistani Islamist terrorists invaded the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai and took virtually all the 1,000 guests and 500 staff hostage. Before being subdued by Indian authorities, the attackers murdered some 160 people. The suspenseful, realistically bloody Hotel Mumbai shows us a dramatized version of what happened. Cue sweaty palms and chewed fingernails.
Under the direction of first-timer Anthony Maras – he collaborated on the screenplay with writer John Collee – the Australia-U.S.-India co-prod does not waste time painting us a background. The shooting starts almost immediately, and as if we’re already familiar with the whys and wherefores of suicide terror attacks, the insurgents are presented as a given. The only thing keeping us from viewing them as generic fanatics is their occasional dialogue. For the inhabitants of the hotel it’s a different story.
A VIP guest (Nazanin Boniadi) and her American husband (Armie Hammer) check into a grand suite with their infant and nanny (Tilda Cobham-Hervey), just in time for the attack. A tough-looking Russian sex tourist (Jason Isaacs) is on hand to provide token resistance. The hotel’s master chef, Hemant Oberoi, is portrayed so convincingly by actor Anupam Kher that we’re willing to believe he’s Oberoi himself. In general, the guests are rich and vaguely insufferable, the staff obsequious to the point of ridiculousness – pretty much everything the terrorists have in mind when they imagine decadent infidels. The hero of the piece is a lowly waiter (Dev Patel) who steps up and takes charge.
Two details stand out: the crying baby, heard by the gunmen in their room-to-room game of hide and seek; and a haughty Western matron with frayed nerves (Carmen Duncan), lashing out at a fellow hostage for talking in “that language” she doesn’t understand. In that respect she’s in the same boat as the terrorists, who couldn’t tell an American from a Russian if their lives depended on it. Ironic to a fault, but worth a look for action enthusiasts.