The title character in Hotel Mumbai is actually called the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, or the Taj for short, and it was one of a dozen Mumbai locations attacked by Islamic terrorists on November 26, 2008, ultimately killing 174 people and injuring hundreds more. The film, directed by first-timer Anthony Maras, follows the disaster-movie formula as it provides a slick, engrossing account focused mainly on the events at the Taj, an enormous luxury hotel with a staff of hundreds.
We’re introduced to most of the major players, representing all walks of life, before the shooting begins. Arjun (Dev Patel), a humble waiter at the Taj, has a pregnant wife at home; a Sikh, his turban briefly makes him an object of suspicion later. He’s surrounded by loyal kitchen staff and other hotel employees for whom the guests’ comfort is their top priority, even during terrorist attacks. The guests include David (Armie Hammer) and his Iranian Muslim wife Zahra (Nazanin Boniadi), rich Americans visiting with their baby son and a nanny, Sally (Tilda Cobham-Hervey); and Vasili (Jason Isaacs), a brusque and demanding Russian businessman. Several of the terrorists are also introduced, all young men who seem like ordinary dopes except for the obvious.
Though a few explosions are involved, most of the mayhem at the Taj and elsewhere comes from good ol’ AK-47s. Many, many people are gunned down; the onscreen violence isn’t gratuitously graphic, but it is plentiful. None of the main characters are terribly interesting as individuals (they’re mostly archetypes), but collectively they’re diverse enough and provide enough different scenarios — some hunkered down in a secured private room; some in their hotel rooms; some trying to escape — to keep the adrenaline going. Maras’ use of real news footage from the attacks gives me pause, but otherwise he’s skillful at presenting a suspenseful, satisfying action movie without sensationalizing the tragedy.