Movie Review: 'Hotel Mumbai' Looks At 2008 Terrorist Attack That Shook The World

Mar 22, 2019
Originally published on March 22, 2019 6:36 pm
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

A new movie is out that looks at events that shook the world a decade ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HOTEL MUMBAI")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Chaos has erupted in Mumbai with multiple bombings and armed gunmen rampaging through the city.

KELLY: The thriller "Hotel Mumbai" re-enacts what became a four-day siege at the luxurious Taj Mahal Palace hotel. Here's our critic Bob Mondello with a review.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Guests arriving at the Taj on November 26, 2008, expected from their surroundings...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HOTEL MUMBAI")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Oh, look at that.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) Where's my little boy?

MONDELLO: ...That they'd be treated like royalty. And the staff went that expectation one better.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HOTEL MUMBAI")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character) Remember always; here at the Taj, guest is God.

MONDELLO: What no one anticipated was gunshots on nearby streets or that offering shelter to people fleeing those gunshots would allow for terrorists into the lobby. In seconds, it's a war zone with a thousand guests and staffers at risk, including a waiter desperately trying to keep patrons from leaving the darkened hotel restaurant and becoming targets.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HOTEL MUMBAI")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #5: (As character) Sir, please, please.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #6: (As character) My kid's upstairs.

MONDELLO: Director and co-writer Anthony Maras spends quite a lot of time out in the hallways with the Pakistani terrorists, which allows us to hear them being coached over headsets about evil foreigners and ungodly luxuries. One gunman is astonished to encounter a flush toilet, a detail that helps underscore the class war they think they're waging.

You might expect the filmmaker to focus on the other end of that class divide, the rich foreigners they're targeting. But he's more interested in the efforts of the hotel's staff to save them - maids, bellhops, waiters who have been mostly ignored and patronized by the guests but who, when chips are down, prove forgiving.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HOTEL MUMBAI")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #7: (As character) I think we should try and gather whoever we can and take them to the Chambers lounge and wait for the police to arrive.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #8: (As character) Sir, Olga made it through the back exit. I can do the same.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #7: (As character) Yes, but our guests can't, not all of them.

MONDELLO: That concern is not misplaced. Though a handful of local cops managed to get inside the hotel, Mumbai's police force isn't trained for combat against automatic weapons and grenades. And the nearest SWAT team is in New Delhi 800 miles and many hours away. Meanwhile, with nerves fraying inside, issues of race and prejudice play out in predictably distressing ways. One guest assumes from waiter Dev Patel's turban that he's Islamic and a potential ally of the terrorists. His concern for her seems at once humane and almost entirely undeserved when he whispers an explanation of his headgear.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HOTEL MUMBAI")

DEV PATEL: (As Arjun) To us Sikhs, it is sacred. Since I was a small boy, I've never gone outside without it. It would bring shame to my family. But while we are in this hotel, you are my guest, and I am your staff. So if it would make you feel comfortable, I will take it off. Would you like that?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #9: (As character) No.

MONDELLO: Whenever there's a film re-enactment of an incident like this - say, Tom Hanks taking on Somali pirates as Captain Phillips - you can feel the warring impulses of history and cinema. However carefully reproduced the real events are, disaster movie rhythms creep in. Storytelling veers into melodrama, and that does happen here. But in his first feature-length film, director Maras uses those familiar rhythms to highlight what his research revealed. There's no action hero in hotel Mumbai, no Schwarzenegger riding to the rescue. Instead, there's real-world heroism from staffers who stayed and risked their lives to save others, including guests who no doubt passed them in the hallways earlier without so much as glancing their way. I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.