Sometimes the most riveting stories are the ones from real
life. True tales of courage and survival can sometimes rival anything that
Hollywood screenwriters can cook up. That’s the case with Hotel Mumbai, the new thriller based on the real-life terrorist
attack on the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai in November 2008.
Hotel Mumbai was
lost in the shuffle between the pro-life drama, Unplanned, the horror movie, Us, and a bevy of superhero flicks. Until I started looking for a movie to see, I
hadn’t even heard of Hotel Mumbai.
The movie is the gripping tale of how 10 Islamic terrorists
from Pakistan attacked 12 sites in the Indian city of Mumbai. The terrorists
eventually penetrated the luxury hotel and terrorized the staff and guests until
Indian security forces were able to respond. The terrorist assault lasted three
days, during which time the occupants of the hotel were forced to fend for
The movie follows several guests, staff members, policemen,
and the terrorists through the attack. For the most part, the gunmen are
depicted as remorseless killing machines who are repeatedly instructed by their
leader in Pakistan that they should kill without mercy. And kill they did. The combined
death toll from the attacks was 166 people with more than 300 wounded.
Although the terrorists were heartless and were depicted as
such, there are scenes towards the end of the movie in which one of the
murderers breaks the façade to reveal that some traces of humanity have been
left. The effect is to humanize the murderers enough for the viewer to fully sense
the tragedy that these men too left behind lives that could have been lived
more fully and had loved ones to mourn their loss. In the end, the real villain
was the unseen imam who turned what a policeman
called “just boys” into brainwashed killing machines.
To balance the cold, calculated brutality of the terrorists, Hotel Mumbai depicts the hotel workers
and guests who fought to survive. There are moments of courage, nobility, and
love as well as fear, cowardice, and stupidity. These are the understandable
reactions of ordinary people who are suddenly faced with extraordinary evil.
The movie, which is rated R, is fast-paced and gritty. There is almost nonstop violence and it is
depicted in a realistically bloody manner. This is not a movie for children or
the faint of heart. The movie is also filmed in several languages so there are
subtitles. The majority of the dialogue is English, however, so the reading is
not unduly burdensome.
It did keep my heart pounding, however. The action onscreen
was riveting and the characters, aside from the terrorists, were very sympathetic.
What made the movie even more intense was the knowledge that this really
happened to real people. Hotel Mumbai is somewhat reminiscent of No Escape,
the 2015 Owen Wilson movie in which an American family is caught in the midst
of a third-world coup, but the historical aspects of Mumbai make it worth watching, even if you’ve seen the earlier
As I watched, Hotel
Mumbai also reminded me of how fortunate
we are in the United States. We have
occasional active-shooter killing sprees but we don’t have organized terror
attacks by well-trained gunmen acting in teams. In the event that there is an
attack of some sort, we also have police tactical units in most major cities.
In Mumbai, the nearest SWAT team had to be deployed from Delhi, about eight
hours away. Despite the problems that we have on our border, our neighboring countries
aren’t filled with people of a hostile religion who want to kill us just for
the sake of killing.
Nevertheless, the threat is real, even here. As a frequent
traveler, the thought of being trapped in a hotel room with gun-toting
terrorists roaming the halls and no way out is chilling. So is the thought that
any airport, train station, or shopping mall could become a shooting gallery to
a determined terrorist. If spree-killers can inflict large numbers of deaths in
this country, so could a jihadist. The spree might not continue for three days
but it would be very bloody and very difficult to defend against.
Hotel Mumbai is the best new movie that you never heard of. It doesn’t have big name actors, superheroes, mind-numbing special effects, or exotic fight scenes. It’s just ordinary people doing extraordinary things. This true story of survival and sacrifice against unflinching evil is one that needs to be told.