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Hotel Mumbai review – Dev Patel shines in harrowing real-life drama | reviews, news & interviews

Hotel Mumbai review – Dev Patel shines in harrowing real-life drama

Hotel Mumbai review – Dev Patel shines in harrowing real-life drama

The recreation of the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai is a testament to heroic hotel staff who wouldn't stop taking care of their guests

A long way from Slumdog Millionaire: Dev Patel in Hotel Mumbai

Like recent films about the Anders Breivik terror attacks in Norway, Hotel Mumbai unavoidably raises questions of taste. Do audiences really need to be subjected to harrowing recreations of real-life suffering, when the events themselves are still fresh?

However it does offer one very moving justification, which is to honour the courage that invariably surfaces during such carnage.

The 2008 assault on Mumbai lasted three nights and involved a number of targets. After covering the first, devastating attacks on a train station and a restaurant, director Anthony Maras enters the doors of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel and more or less remains there for the duration, focussing on the hundreds of guests and staff trapped inside as heavily armed terrorists gunned down as many as they could find. 

In an odd way it plays like a disaster movie, following a handful of primary characters as they sneak around the luxurious building, trying to survive. Among these are Armie Hammer and Nazanin Boniadi as a wealthy couple who are separated from their newborn child and nanny after the terrorists enter the hotel; Jason Isaacs (pictured below with Boniadi) as a Russian businessman with a rep as a troublesome guest and boor who reveals a more compassionate side as the night progresses; and Anupam Kher and Dev Patel as, respectively, head chef and waiter, whose courage and good sense will save a great many guests. While all are exemplary, Patel is the stand-out with a performance of enormous dignity as a Sikh from an impoverished district,who never allows the guests’ ingratitude or racial intolerance to cloud his own behaviour. 

Maras may deny us a political framework and any investigation as to why the response of India’s police and military was so tardy, but he doesn’t ignore the deep class divide of those suddenly endangered together, or the irony at the heart of the hotel’s tragic experience. Half of the people killed there were staff who stayed behind to take care of guests – maintaining their maxim that “the guest is god” to the bitter end. 

As for their tormenters, the Islamic militants from Pakistan are given minimal shading, but enough to suggest in these very young men a complex mixture of commitment, naivete and exploitation. Their brutality makes it hard to sympathise.

The orchestration of the action inside the rooms, halls, corridors and service areas of the hotel is masterful, the tension unrelenting. The film would have benefitted from more context and less savagery, but there’s no denying its accomplishment as a heart-in-mouth drama that never loses its grip, nor its ability to disturb and move in equal measure.

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