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Lulu Wang (The Farewell)
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Review: Hotel Mumbai

by Jason Adams

What scares us -- the communal us -- shifts through time. The 70s gave us Vietnam allegories like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, while in the 80s Slasher Movies were all the rage as divorce numbers went up and women asserted their rights. Then there was so-called Torture Porn, which was all the rage while Bush & Cheney were throwing their waterboarding parties. So what now? It's hard not to see Grief as the theme of our current moment -- the great horror films of our age, films like The Babadook and Hereditary, are profound ruminations on a world that's already slipped through our fingers -- a madness so close its breath is hot on your throat, and a knowledge that its our own failures, our own shortcomings, that brought this all down upon us.

Hotel Mumbai is technically not a horror movie (look to Jordan Peele's Us, which Chris just reviewed, for this weekend's official entry in that genre) but it sure operates like one...

We're introduced to a band of characters, some more broadly than others, and wait for the terrorists, the masked murders, to close in, hunting them down. Whether that's strictly moral -- turning real-life tragedy into a violent video-game -- has interested a lot of the reviewers reviewing this movie but it doesn't really interest me; Hotel Mumbai is hardly alone in that regard in our moment in time -- hello, Paul Greengrass.

What interests me more is how our moment in time is demanding these films, this particular catharsis.

The news this morning showed me photographs of women across New Zealand donning head-scarves to show respect to and solidarity with the Muslims who just suffered an act of devastation in their country -- a gorgeous act of humanity, of bringing people together to mourn and to present a united front. These movies, for all their comparative crudeness, are really giving us some of that same thing. A superficial stab at understanding, on an animal level, what the horror of today is, and a vision of its other side.

Hotel Mumbai, the first feature from director Anthony Maras, is relentless and grueling, but also particularly effective -- Maras has a real skill with the most vital aspect of this kind of enclosed space thriller (even if the "enclosed space" here is palatially ginormous) which is giving us a clear lay-out of where we are at every moment; he situates us somewhat masterfully among the many rooms and floors where this horror show plays out, making the terror of moving through it all the more compelling. 

Also aiding us on that count is his cast, led by a deeply moving Dev Patel -- I've seen some complaints that the film foregrounds the white guests (that would be Armie Hammer and Jason Isaacs) over brown faces but the rigid Upstairs Downstairs dynamic, surviving alongside India's caste system, leads to some of the film's most fascinating (and I think purposefully troubling) dynamics. Who's put in the way of these guns and bombs wielded by brainwashed kids -- who lives and dies, who is asked to sacrifice, in this world? The film asks all these questions, and brushes up against a lot of uncomfortable truths as it does.

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Reader Comments (10)

I dont know why i'm even considering seeing this. but I am. what's wrong with me?!

March 22, 2019 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I thought Dev was really, really good. There's nothing especially subtle about what it's doing, but I think it's hypocritical to write off these movies with a grand sweep of the hand when they do represent us a culture trying to reckon with horrors we otherwise can't really comprehend or wrap our heads around.

March 22, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJason

I’m sure Dev is good in this, but I wish he was being offered more roles in movies that aren’t always set in India. Roles where his character doesn’t necessarily have to be Indian.

March 22, 2019 | Unregistered Commenter?

Roles where his character doesn’t necessarily have to be Indian don't exist. Not as the lead character anyway..

March 22, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterAvi

True, but that’s too bad. He should also be allowed to play characters that just happen to be Indian instead of always playing characters that are defined by being Indian.

March 22, 2019 | Unregistered Commenter?

Dev wanted to be in this movie and worked with Maras to develop his character as a Sikh. He arrived as his parents' house in London in 2008 to find them in front of the TV crying as they watched the news and he never forgot. The train station is where the Jai Ho scene of Slumdog was filmed

As to non-Indian roles, he will be playing David Copperfield in a film to be released this fall and is reported in negotiations to play Sir Gawain, a part of King Arthur's Round Table. Wait for the complaints that these should be white roles.

March 22, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSharon

That's great for him. The only thing is the complaints will come because the character and the environment it takes place in are historically and factually 'white', which give these complaints justice. Fictional stories should allow actors to be cast based on their talent instead of the color of their skin or ethnicity. Unfortunately, I don't think I will witness this in my lifetime where that is the case.

March 22, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterAvi

Nice to see his getting more leading roles after LION. His other film in theaters (THE WEDDING GUEST) looks interesting.

March 24, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge P.

Where are Maggie and Judi when you need them?

March 24, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterevangelina

It's not a good film. It's tonally uneven and way too long. And the bloodshed...totally over the top and unnecessary. Around 30 people died in the Taj that day. Felt like we saw more than 30 people get gunned down in the first 30 minutes of the film.

March 24, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterEz

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