To grapple most directly with this brutalising century, what the movies have generated so far is the based-on-true-atrocities cycle initiated by Paul Greengrass’s United 93. It now churns out Australian director Anthony Maras’s middling Hotel Mumbai. In its unflinching, often virtuosic carnage, the cycle may be as close as the commercial cinema has been allowed to get to the new extreme cinema that was so in vogue across Europe as the planes struck the World Trade Center.
Maras’s film demonstrates how, without Greengrass’s time-stamped precision, such projects can assume an air of the blandly composite – and even of the generic disaster movie, undercutting any seriousness of intent. The onlookers to this recreation of the November 2008 attack on Mumbai’s Taj Mahal hotel seem a very Irwin Allen-like ragbag. Waiter Dev Patel and chef Anupam Kher represent the locals, while the guests are rugged architect Armie Hammer, his mutely beautiful wife Nazanin Boniadi and shady Russian Jason Isaacs (the latter introduced inquiring as to the size of an escort’s nipples). Maras and co-writer John Collee spy something positive in the enforced bonding of these disparate types, but the bodycount flattens the homilies.
For an hour, Maras maintains a basic hide-and-seek tension, as his players sporadically break cover to bundle themselves into pantries and linen closets, and he makes attempts to humanise the killers. It’s just uneasy viewing in many ways: rotely mechanical in its conversion of suffering into set pieces, morally questionable as it inserts authentic, blood-spattered cameraphone footage into fictional activity. The action increasingly bears the rehearsed, prosaic look of an extended evacuation drill.
Art born of outrage has to be more rigorous – and we might also contemplate what merit there is in guaranteeing prospective terrorists a filmed account of their misdeeds.
Hotel Mumbai opens in the UK on 27 September.