Review: Hotel Mumbai

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

hotel mumbai bannerPLOT: During the 2008 Mumbai attacks, a group of travellers staying at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel try to stay alive with the help of the hotel’s selfless staff.

REVIEW: HOTEL MUMBAI is one of the movies that was sold off when The Weinstein Company declared bankruptcy in the wake of Harvey Weinstein. I was surprised to see it included as part of TIFF’s lineup for that reason. However, despite the Weinstein connection (his name and the name of the company have been wiped from the credits), the film itself is an engaging, propulsive account of a horrific event — one which deserves to be seen. It’s as worthy a film on artistic merits alone as anything else I saw there.

The cast is sprawling, with director Anthony Maras attempting to convey as many points of view as possible. As a result, much time is spent with the hotel patrons, many of them westerners, the heroic staff, and even, in a controversial  move, with the terrorists — who the film attempts to humanize in the same way Paul Greengrass did in UNITED 93. However, they also don’t sidestep the many atrocities committed, with the death tally at over 167 people.

If the movie ultimately has a takeaway message, which keeps it from being a two-hour massacre that’ll leave the audience feeling numb, it’s that the heroism of the hotel staff is incredibly inspiring. We follow Dev Patel’s waiter, Arjun, a Sikh, who, along with the hotel’s heroic chef, Hemant Oberoi (the excellent Anupam Kher), attempts to hide the guests around the hotel from the gunmen, despite having the chance early on to escape themselves. The attack is shocking in its brutality, with no one spared by the gunmen, who are cheered on by their chipper cell leader. Ever worse, you see how Mumbai’s police force was woefully unequipped to deal with the event, with them forced to stand by for hours waiting for special forces to arrive, although some cops, desperate to help, risk their lives trying to infiltrate the hotel.

The westerners are mostly represented by Armie Hammer, as an American engineer newly married to a local woman (Nazanin Boniadi) with a new baby in tow, who tries to get his family to safety. The movie maybe digs into cliche a little heavily with Jason Isaacs as a crooked Russian businessman planning an all-night coke-and-sex binge who ultimately proves to be heroic when the attacks go down. He seems a little too much like someone out of an Irwin Allen movie. Yet, when the movie focuses on Patel and Kher, it’s excellent, although Hammer and Boniadi seem a bit too glamorous in an unmistakably Hollywood way to really hit a realistic note.

Despite a few corny missteps, HOTEL MUMBAI wound up being one of the biggest surprises of the festival for me, as it wasn’t one of the more hyped titles. The audience I saw it with seemed to take it in the right way, in that despite the horrific violence, it does a good job evoking the heroism of the hotel staff, which was incredible. It’s a fitting tribute to them, and well-worth checking out when it eventually hits theatres.


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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.