The Mumbai terror attacks of 2008.
Hold on, let me think or Google for a second.
Oh yes. Oh God. One of the most horrific acts of terrorism ever — a four-day attack resulting in more than 160 deaths and more than 300 wounded.
I’ll admit I had to refresh my memory of the details of that unspeakable massacre before I watched “Hotel Mumbai,” a searing and intense depiction of those events.
None of us should be chastised if we don’t recall all the particulars of the Mumbai massacre, or the 2011 Norway attacks (fictionalized in last year’s “22 July”) or the Boston Marathon bombings (the subject of the 2016 action drama “Patriots Day”).
It’s not that we don’t care or we don’t want to remember.
It’s that there have been so damn many.
Employing a real-life tragedy as the foundation for a mainstream action-drama is a delicate balancing act; no doubt the filmmakers want to be respectful and to honor the heroics without gratuitously exploiting the bloodshed — but they’re also trying to ring up sales at the box office.
At times director and co-writer Anthony Maras’ “Hotel Mumbai” veers dangerously close to becoming almost sadistically realistic in its depiction of a pack of young ihadi killers from Pakistan carrying out cold-blooded executions in multiple locations across India’s largest city.
At times the story takes on the trappings of a stalker movie, with a small group of stock characters — the wealthy, selfish narcissist, the woman desperately trying to keep a crying baby quiet, the regular guy who steps up and becomes a leader — thrown together by circumstances and forced to lean on one another to get through the night.
But while “Hotel Mumbai” can be an emotionally rough viewing experience, it’s an impressively staged, unfiltered, sometimes shockingly visceral film with stellar performances from the top-tier cast.
The Mumbai attacks of November 2008 transpired over a four-day period in a half-dozen locations in Mumbai, from a railway station to a movie theater to a Jewish community, and we see glimpses of the scope of the siege — but the central story is centered at the luxurious and storied and landmark Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.
In the opening sequence, we see the terrorists arriving by rafts, listening to a grotesque pep talk of sorts from their leader (who is never seen in the film), exhorting them to carry out their mission, because God is on their side, and — according to his sick and twisted mindset — nobody in this city deserves to live.
(We hear snippets of these transmissions, which are based on actual communications, throughout the film. Though it doesn’t make these monstrous killers any more sympathetic, it does make them more … human, if you will. We can see flashes of doubt and uncertainty in the eyes of some of these jihadists — but they’re past the point of thinking for themselves, past the point of redemption.)
Meanwhile, it’s business as usual at the posh and beautifully appointed Taj. We meet the waiter Arjun (Dev Patel), a local man with a family; Arjun’s boss, the head chef Hemant (Anupam Kher); a newlywed couple (Armie Hammer and Nazanin Boniadi) with an infant; their au pair (Tilda Cobham-Hervey) and a wealthy, good time-seeking Russian oligarch (Jason Issacs). (The head chef is based on a real-life individual. The rest are composite characters.)
Just as everyone is settling into their evening, the doors burst open and four terrorists wielding AK-47s start randomly firing away, killing at will. When word comes that military special forces are hours away, the surviving staffers and guests desperately try to remain hidden and keep a step ahead of the terrorists. (Some of the staffers have been at the hotel for decades and know every hidden nook and passageway in the massive complex.)
Director Maras and his cinematographer, Nick Remy Matthews, render the shootings in bursts of jagged-edged realism — a sharp contrast to the sometimes corny dialogue, especially between the newlywed couple. But thanks in large part to the fine work by Hammer and Boniadi, et al. (as well as the actors portraying those easily manipulated, terribly misguided, murdering terrorists), “Hotel Mumbai” is a chilling and valuable reminder of acts of madness, and acts of heroism, that should never be forgotten.
Bleecker Street presents a film directed by Anthony Maras and written by Maras and John Collee. Rated R (for disturbing violence throughout, bloody images, and language). Running time: 125 minutes. Now showing at local theaters.