By Laurie Coker
Had the events of 9/11 never happened incidents like the one that occurred at the Taj Hotel in Mumbai, India would have been little more than a few segments the evening news. Horrific actions on foreign soil had nothing to do with us. Director Anthony Maras who shares writing credit with John Collee recreates the terrifying hours that transpired from the time Pakistani terrorists arrived in Mumbai via boat to the point where they died, but not before they gunned down innocent people, bombed public buildings, and drew the eyes of the world to the palatial Taj Hotel.
Among the hotel’s VIP guests are Zahra (Nazanin Boniadi) arrives with her American husband David (Armie Hammer), their infant son and their nanny Sally (Tilda Cobham-Hervey). The couple leaves Sally in the room while they head down stairs to have dinner. Also in house is a Russian oligarch named Vasili (Jason Isaacs) who sits near them ordering up girls for a private party. In the lobby, gunmen invade the hotel shooting everyone they see. A waiter named Arjun (Dev Patel) and his boss (Anupam Kher) work to get the diners to safety. Theirs is an organized meticulously planned assault that continues for hours as the ill-prepared local police do what they can.
Maras uses his keen attention to detail to play out each scene with alarming realism. His characters are rich and believable garnering an instant emotional connection. Although brief, each guest has a backstory that surfaces through the talented casts’ subtle interactions. If there is a focal character, it is Arjun an unassuming staff member who pleads to stay at work after having lost his shoes. Hammer and Boniadi brilliantly capture parental desperation, which makes them both rash and dauntless. Patel’s performance is perfect. In fact, the entire cast is passionately and vividly authentic – fear genuine and palatable. Their faces, glances, and whispers speak loudly – voices of victims and heroes.
Some films entertain and others captivate. Although Maras takes care to keep much of the grisly events off screen – showing the soulless shooters instead of the victims – he masterfully manages suspended suspense which he blends with heart-wrenching acts of humanity and heroism. Were Hotel Mumbai purely fiction, it might have been less impactful, but knowing something like this happened, makes Maras and Collee’s effort all the more revealing and memorable. Speculative or not, what happened during those chilling hours, feels completely plausible. Hotel Mumbai earns an A+.