Friday 27 September 2019

"Hotel Mumbai" (Guardian 27/09/19)

Hotel Mumbai **
Dir: Anthony Maras. With: Dev Patel, Armie Hammer, Nazanin Boniadi, Anupam Kher. 123 mins. Cert: 15

Though scarcely worse than its predecessor, this has been a brutalising century so far, and our art is struggling to keep up; our Guernica is apparently still some way off. What the movies have generated, in the meantime, is that based-on-true-atrocities cycle initiated by Paul Greengrass’s United 93, which now churns out the Australian director Anthony Maras’ middling Hotel Mumbai. In its unflinching, often virtuosic carnage, the cycle may be as close as the commercial cinema has been allowed to get to the New Extreme Cinema that was so in vogue across Europe as the planes struck the World Trade Center. Yet these works are fitted with built-in mitigation: steered not towards controversy but closure and consolation, they insist lessons can be learnt, that nobody died in vain.

Maras’s film chiefly demonstrates how, without Greengrass’s time-stamped precision, such projects can assume an air of the blandly composite – and even of the generic disaster movie, undercutting any seriousness of intent. The onlookers to this recreation of the November 2008 attack on Mumbai’s Taj Mahal hotel do seem a very Irwin Allen-like ragbag. Waiter Dev Patel and chef Anupam Kher represent the locals; rugged architect Armie Hammer, his mutely beautiful wife Nazanin Boniadi and shady Russian Jason Isaacs, introduced enquiring as to the size of an escort’s nipples, the guests. Maras and co-writer John Collee spy something positive in the enforced bonding of these disparate types, but the bodycount flattens the homilies, and the nipple business flags how close Maras is to outright exploitation.

For an hour, at least, he maintains a basic hide-and-seek tension, as his players sporadically break cover to bundle themselves in pantries and linen closets, and he makes honourable attempts to humanise the violently misled killers. It’s just uneasy viewing in many ways besides: rotely mechanical in its conversion of suffering into setpieces, iffy whenever it inserts authentic, blood-spattered cameraphone footage into otherwise fictional activity. Maras needs those flickers of urgent immersivity; elsewhere, the action increasingly bears the rehearsed, prosaic look of an extended evacuation drill. Art born of outrage surely has to be more rigorous – and we might also contemplate what merit there is in guaranteeing prospective terrorists a filmed record of their misdeeds.

Hotel Mumbai opens in selected cinemas from today.

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