Led By A Strong Cast;
Poise Under Pressure.
This film has been a long time coming, ever since the Islamic terrorist attacks that rocked Mumbai and shocked the world in November of 2008. Over 300 were injured and nearly 200 died over the course of a few days of absolute chaos and carnage, with a group of ten terrorists hitting a dozen spots in the city in a coordinated assault on a city that lacked the capability to respond with proper force. Anthony Maras has previously directed a handful of short films, and makes his feature-length directorial debut here, absolutely knocking it out of the park by recreating an absolutely horrific event with precision and care.
Much like Paul Greengrass with last year’s 22 July, Maras drops us right into the center of the action and barely lets his foot off the gas long enough to let the audience catch its breath over the course of two hours. And just like that film, there is very little backstory on display here, with just enough exposition to build your investment in the core of principal characters before the mayhem starts without warning. From there, we are placed inside a living nightmare, every bit as harrowing and relentlessly riveting as you would imagine. The story chooses to focus on the famous Taj Hotel and the battle that raged inside, broadcast on TV for the world to see, over two separate days. Focusing on a single location confines us to the chaos and carnage, making it as impossible for us to escape as the guests and staff that were trapped inside.
Maras draws wonderful work out of his cast, most notably Dev Patel, Nazanin Boniadi and Anupam Kher. Boniadi is a wife and mother, trapped with her husband during the shooting, trying desperately to get back to her room where their caretaker is watching their infant son. The drama is heartbreaking at times, and Boniadi does a splendid job of portraying the emotions of a mother faced with such unimaginable horrors. Patel and Kher play a server and the head chef of the hotel restaurant, putting the “Guest is God” mantra to the ultimate test and staying in the fray to rescue as many people as possible before the police are able to breach the building. I don’t know how accurate this portion of the story is, but that doesn’t really matter, because there were many staffers who chose to stay and put the lives of others in front of their own, and their heroism deserves to be commended on the big screen. Patel is particularly good, acting with honor and grace. He is just as afraid as everyone else, but manages to confine his fear to the fringes of his face, always attempting to push it down to remain a convincing, calm presence in the face of brutality and terror. It is great work all-around.
Jason Isaacs is there to play a sneering, rude, Russian tough guy who adapts with the situation and finds a bit of redemption. His character was my only complaint about the script, as he seemed a bit underdeveloped, especially when his past is revealed late in the film. He could have been more, and it would have added even more depth to a specific scene already flowing with emotion.
Maras deserves a lot of credit for a debut this strong. Together with his cinematographer Nick Remy Matthews and editor Peter McNulty, he creates a vibrant city in utter despair and finds a great balance , giving screen time to those who need it, and at the appropriate times. It builds incredible tension and palpable terror until a very powerful, cathartic finale that finally lets you exhale. He wisely leaves the controlling mastermind, The Bull, as simply a voice on the phone, shouting orders and encouragement at the terrorists from the safety of somewhere far off. This speaks not only to the reality of the situation, but also the willingness of fanatics to die for someone else’s cause, accepting their vague promises on blind faith. It is a powerful narrative device, and would have felt cheapened by showing the person on the other end of the line.
This was a very good, very intense and overall very impressive film, with little to complain about. People speaking of its exploitative nature don’t seem to understand, in my estimation, the importance of remembering events such as this. Yes, the violence is frequent and the brutality indiscriminate, but that was the shattering reality of that day and acknowledging what happened isn’t glorifying it. The body count is high because it reflects reality. The real world is an ugly, gruesome place, and films like this are necessary reminders.
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