"I'll never forget the torment of waking up in the middle of the night sweating, and I'd wake up Alec and say, 'we can pull out of this right now' - "-Kim Basinger on location to shoot I Dreamed of Africa
In November 2008, a gang of jihadi terrorists attack several targets in Mumbai, including the five star Taj Hotel in Mumbai. Hotel staff risk their lives to ensure everyone is safe as people make unthinkable sacrifices to protect themselves and their families. (Based on a true story.)
Review by Louise Keller: In a gripping recreation of the horrific 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai's luxurious Taj Mahal Hotel, Australian director Anthony Maras has created a tense, involving and claustrophobic environment in which we are in situ - as the dramatic events unfold. It's an impressive directing debut and the most interesting thing about Maras' treatment and the screenplay he has co-written with John Collee (Master and Commander), is the varied and multiple perspectives. Not only are we seeing the events from the POV of those impacted by the horror, but from that of the perpetrators, who are told the whole world is watching while Allah waits for them in Paradise.
It is chilling to watch a dramatized event such as this, the real events still fresh in our minds, when news images showed the distinctive fa¨cade of the Taj on a backdrop of fire and devastation. In many ways, the film acts as a reminder that this kind of atrocity can occur anytime, anywhere.
There is no lengthy lead time or anticipation before the killing starts. After an unsettling opening scene in which the terrorists find their way to their destinations, we are taken inside the doors of the Taj, where the staff's mantra is 'guest is god'. We quickly become involved in the plight of those affected as several story strands intertwine. The immediacy of the action, the lack of warning and the extent to which those who happen to be there are powerless is highlighted as brutal, senseless violence begins. This includes the inadequacy of the police and their ability to rescue the hostages.
Central to the story is Nazanin Boniadi's wealthy Zahra, her baby, American husband David (Armie Hammer) and nanny Sally (Tilda Cobham-Hervey). Their opulent suite offering a perfectly heated 48 F bath with rose-petals is a sharp contrast to the slums outside. Our hearts are in our mouth as Sally hides in confined spaces, praying she and the crying baby will not be discovered. Vasili (Jason Isaacs) is convincingly nasty as a Russian businessman with a penchant for 20 year old single malt whisky. Dev Patel's selfless Sikh waiter Arjun is heroic in the true sense and Patel is the film's most sympathetic character. The scene in which he explains to an agitated tourist (Carmen Duncan in her final film role) the implications of removing his turban is moving. We follow these stories in the midst of machine gun fire, grenades and panic.
The imagery is intense, brutal and disturbing. Volker Bertelmann's percussive heavy score is powerful, adding effectively to the build up of tension and fear.
Review by Andrew L. Urban: What is the point of making a dramatic feature film based on the terrorist attack on the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai in 2008? Aren't we all over-familiar with images of terrorism in major cities? Don't we remember what happened? Australian filmmaker Anthony Maras answers these questions with a powerful film that rips away the anonymity of the victims and the terrorists alike, making them real human beings, not news items. And he does it with the force of conviction. He is not making a film about an attack on a hotel - he is making a film about the human condition and its multiple sides.
He does something else, too: he gets inside the terrorists as young men whose jihad is so deeply rooted in their psyche that they are able to kill anyone in cold blood at close quarters. In a Hollywood movie this would attract criticism that it's unwarranted gratuitous violence. In a movie that feels like a re-enactment with its authenticity and the absence of inauthentic filmmaking tricks, the same gratuitous violence is the reality of jihad. This is in-your-face terrorism at its most devastating. It really shakes us, more so perhaps than news footage can.
The screenplay, by Maras and John Collee, is exceptional in its overall focus and its focus on the human dimension. Maras directs with passion and a cool professionalism combined, while Peter McNulty edits the film with deep understanding of cinema. Delivered by superb performances, many of the characters will stay in our memories, not least the terrorists played by Amandeep Singh, Suhail Nayyar, Manoj Mehra, Dinesh Kumar, Amriptal Singh and Kapil Kumar Netra. But the faces of Arjun (Dev Patel), Chef Oberoi (Anupam Kher), Armie Hammer (David), Nazanin Boniadi (Zahra) and Jason Isaacs (Vasili) will hover in our memories, each for their unique persona, all under immense emotional and physical stress.
It's a demanding and challenging film, confronting as it takes us so close to an inhuman, amoral hate we cannot comprehend. Worst of all, this hatred floats on religious, self righteous myth. The mothers, sisters and wives of jihadis should be invited to watch it, all over the world.