REVIEW: “Hotel Mumbai”


In November of 2008 ten Pakistani terrorists unleashed a series of attacks across Mumbai, the most populous city in India. Among their targets was a historical train station, a popular cafe, a Jewish community center, and two of the city’s signature hotels. 166 people were killed in the attacks and over 300 were injured.

“Hotel Mumbai” is the feature film debut for its director Anthony Maras. It’s a fictionalized account based on a 2009 documentary short “Surviving Mumbai” and specifically the attack on the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. The timing of the film’s release is unfortunate considering the still raw and painful emotions following the recent mosque mass shootings in New Zealand. This is certain to effect some perspectives.


Dev Patel serves as our entry point into a story filled with a wide assortment of characters. He plays Arjun, a waiter at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel with a wife at home expecting their second child. So instantly we have our first of several rooting interests.

Arjun arrives to work late for his shift which annoys his hard-nosed but respectable boss, the hotel’s head chef Hermant Oberoi (Anupam Kher). Meanwhile newlyweds David (Armie Hammer) and Zahra (Nazanin Boniadi) check in with their newborn baby and young nanny Sally (Tilda Cobham-Hervey). We also meet Jason Isaacs playing a jerky Russian businessman and a hard nut to crack.

Most surprising is the depth Maras gives to the young Pakistani terrorists. We first see them as they arrive by small boat and quickly disperse across the city to their assigned targets. The movie hints at things such as socioeconomic conditions that could have pushed them to such violence but it never goes as far as to make them overtly sympathetic. Just the opposite. They kill without the slightest tinge of conscience. Their demeanors are cold and calloused, their faces blank and emotionless. No theatrics, just a businesslike approach to slaughter. It’s unsettling and chilling to watch.


Maras does challenge the audience to look into the face of radicalization. He shows us twenty-somethings from impoverished backgrounds driven by extremism to hate non-Muslim cultures and any semblance of wealth. They are instructed by the disturbing voice in their earbuds coming from a puppet-master known only as “The Bull”. He fuels their hate and wants “the screams of the victims to be heard by the world”. These young men are fanatics who have been weaponized by their handlers to coldly carry out their well-planned atrocities. And they follow with little to no resistance.

Of course most of this is brought to light within the enormous Taj Hotel where terrified staff and guests scramble for safety among the chaos and carnage. Hope is hard to come by especially when we learn how ill-equipped the city was to respond (Mumbai had no tactical units to counter such an attack). But Maras shows amazing acts of kindness and bravery born from the human spirit in the face of such disturbing inhumanity. There is no single hero and thankfully no puffy-chested machismo. Just true-to-life characters with personal stakes trying to survive. We occasionally lose track of some of them, but ultimately Maras does a good job putting us in their shoes.

Hotel Mumbai

There are many instances where “Hotel Mumbai” subverts your expectations whether it’s the disciplined use of the score or its ability to stay true to the horrific violence without always showing the bloodiest results. But there are a couple of times where you can almost see the Hollywood influence creep its way in. The worst is a cringe-inducing scene meant to speak to racial profiling but that comes across as ridiculously scripted and completely false. It literally yanked me out of the otherwise relentless white-knuckle tension.

Predictably some have been quick to dismiss “Hotel Mumbai” as ill-advised and exploitative. I didn’t see it that way. Unflinching and uncomfortably relevant, perhaps. Ill-advised and exploitative, no. Maras and co-writer John Collee did hours of interviews with survivors and witnesses. Much of that is what shaped their story and characters. This is no sanitized account. It’s gritty and admittedly tough to watch. But it could also be one of the more authentic portrayals of its kind. It certainly left me rattled.



5 Phenomenal but Utterly Detestable Movie Villains

The topic of villains has cropped up here several times over the past few weeks. In today’s Phenomenal 5 I want to look at villains but with a slight twist. Obviously the audience isn’t supposed to root for the villains when watching a film. But we all know that some movie antagonists and more evil than others. In fact, some are down right detestable. Those are ones we are exploring in this list. I’m sharing 5 phenomenal yet utterly detestable bad guys. These are the guys that you grow to dislike so much that you end up anxious for their demise – the messier the better. There are plenty to choose from so I wouldn’t say this was the definitive list. But there’s no doubt that these 5 phenomenal villains are unquestionably detestable.

#5 – AGENT STANSFIELD (“Leon: The Professional”)

Gary Oldman has a history of playing deplorable villains. But I don’t think any are as detestable as his Agent Stanfield in Luc Beeson’s “Leon: The Professional”. Stanfield is a corrupt DEA Agent who is a stylishly dressed pill-popping addict. We hate this guy immediately as we see him fly off the handle and murder an entire family including a young child. The slaughter is all over some missing cocaine that was being stashed in their apartment. The only survivor is 12-year old Mathilda (Natalie Portman) who can identify and tie Stanfield to the slaughter. Stanfield makes Mathilda and her protector, a hitman named Leon (Jean Reno) his prime target. Stanfield is a slimy and despicable villain who is willing to waste anyone that inconveniences him, even children. How can he not be on this list?

#4 – SEAN NOKES (“Sleepers”)

My wife still says she has a hard time liking Kevin Bacon due to his performance as reform school guard Sean Nokes in 1996’s “Sleepers”. I can’t say I blame her. A group of mischievous boys from Hell’s Kitchen end up being sent to Wilkinson Home for Boys after their antics finally catch up to them. But one of the heads of the school is a disgustingly vile guard who uses his authority and power to abuse the boys in every way possible. He verbally abuses them. He beats them. He and his guard buddies even sexually assault them. It’s a strong but disturbing and uncomfortable performance from Bacon which is one reason this character is perfect for this list. The movie leaps ahead 14 years later where two of the boys run into Nokes. They reintroduce themselves to him and lets just say that the results are certainly satisfying.

#3 – COLONEL TAVINGTON (“The Patriot”)

In “The Patriot” Mel Gibson plays a respected man who due to past experiences is reluctant to support the colonies decision to go to war with England. But his perspective changes when he encounters Colonel Tavington (Jason Isaacs), a vicious and ruthless English officer whose known as “The Butcher” by his fellow Englishman. Isaacs’ arrogance and calloused view of human life is never more evident than in the scene where he takes the life of Gibson’s son followed by the comment “Stupid boy”. Also locking an entire village in a church and flippantly burning them alive does nothing to endear Tavington to us. And then there’s his showdown with Heath Ledger’s character, Gibson’s oldest son. Tavington is about as detestable as a villain can be and when he meets up with Mel Gibson on the battlefield we are ready for him to get whats coming to him.

#2 – CAPTAIN VIDAL (“Pan’s Labyrinth”)

Writer and director Guillermo del Toro created a dark but fantastical world in his 2006 fantasy film Pan’s Labyrinth. In the film, young Ofelia and her pregnant mother come to live with her new stepfather Vidal. He’s a military officer stationed in the mountains of Spain and tasked with squelching a rebel movement against his cause. We quickly learn that Vidal is not only a brutal military man but also extremely hateful and eventually abusive towards Ofelia and her mother. Vidal is one of those characters that is so cruel and so evil that he makes your skin crawl. This violent sociopath soon completely loses touch with reality and the pure evil in his heart is realized. It all leads to a heart-breaking final scene with Ofelia face-to-face with an unbridled Vidal who ends up solidifying his spot on this list.

#1 – AMON GOTH (“Schindler’s List”)

One of the things that makes Ralph Fiennes’ Amon Goth from “Schindler’s List” so terrifying and detestable is the fact that he is based on a real person. This Nazi SS officer oversaw the slaughter of thousands of Jews in his brutal death camps. Fiennes gives a tremendous performance bringing this vile and psychopathic mass murderer to life on screen. We see him issue orders that results in the deaths of so many. He personally shoots men and women in the head in order to make examples out of them. He even sits on the terrace of his hilltop home overlooking the camp and shoots random prisoners with his high-powered sniper rifle for no real purpose other than his sadistic hatred. We’ve seen lots of Nazis in cinema history but none are as unnerving and deplorable as to murderous savage Amon Goth.

And there they are, 5 phenomenal villains that we can all agree are detestable. See someone I missed? Please take time to let me know who you would have included on this list.