Kicking off with hotel staff and tourists beginning a seemingly ordinary day, ‘Hotel Mumbai’ quickly becomes a cross between an Irwin Allen disaster movie and a nail-biting thriller. It’s based on the real-life terrorist attack, making it a tougher watch than the popcorn fare it recalls, like ‘24’. There’s a palpable unease throughout– not unlike Kathryn Bigelow’s ‘Detroit’.
The cast includes Dev Patel as waiter Arjun at the lavish Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, Jason Isaacs as Vasili, a high-powered Russian businessman, and heiress Zahra (Nazanin Boniadi). She’s there with her new American husband David (Armie Hammer), and their baby and nanny. Settling into the restaurant, David scours the menu for burgers while Vasili loudly orders escorts at the next table. These characters are mostly fictionalised composites of real-life people, but national stereotypes remain intact.
Then comes the moment you’re dreading: the terrorists, already throwing Mumbai into chaos, creep into the hotel and a long stand-off begins as they stalk and slaughter in the corridors. Suspenseful moments abound and Hammer is good as an everyman under stress, swerving just shy of Gerard Butler territory and leaving the main heroism to the Indian staff. It’s poignant stuff and a slick, well-made thriller, yet with the focus on the carnage rather than the political climate, you can’t shake the feeling that it’s a bit exploitative. An invented scenario might have been easier to accept as entertainment.