Hotel Mumbai

Hotel MumbaiHotel Mumbai is a very harrowing, suspenseful dramatisation of the 2008 attack on the city’s Taj Mahal Palace Hotel during which the city was attacked by a ten-strong group of heavily armed Islamic terrorists. Its riveting stuff- as a thriller its effective indeed, and its very similarity to Gerard Butler’s Olympus Has Fallen etc makes uncomfortable viewing as we know, as disturbing as things are, this time around its based on true events. Tragedy as entertainment always has an uncomfortable feeling about it, but it makes everything seem more intense, too. The comic book heroics of Butler’s films, and others like it (I suppose, after all, you’d possibly include ‘classics’ like Die Hard in that list) have to be stripped out because these are just normal people in unusual situations and really, in the real world there’s no place for wisecracks or fisticuffs in the face of grenades and assault rifles.

So we have this weird dichotomy going on, in that as the outrage progresses, we have the misguided expectation that Armie Hammer’s tall handsome American architect or Jason Isaac’s obnoxious Russian with a military background will step up with some heroics like a typical thriller would have it, but as this film is based on a true event and such Hollywood nonsense never happened, there is a weird frustration through the film. The heroism of this film is of a different kind entirely- its one of simply surviving, and mostly of the staff protecting its guests. Perhaps you could call it civilisation versus barbarism. Perhaps we have been so used to those Hollywood action films where Willis, Butler or Neeson step up with their own brand of justice to right the violent wrongs that we struggle with their absence.

I suppose my point is, this film should possibly be a horror film, and this films only failure, really, is that its indeed ostensibly a thriller. Mans inhumanity to man is always a depressing subject but what I found most distressing was the familiarity of it all. Terrorist incidents such as this frequently seem to be in the news – bombings in foreign countries, shootings etc in which the victims almost inevitably become just numbers, statistics, and we’ve seen films simplify such events in action-thrillers of the past.

Partly this itself becomes a problem for the film- the statistics of this attack are incomprehensible, really. Over the three days that the event lasted, 174 people died, including 9 of the 10 attackers, and over 300 people were wounded. To its credit, the film shy’s away from sensationalising the events and attempts to show the simple heroism of staff trying to protect the hotels guests and those guests trying to survive and protect their loved ones. Its a human story but inevitably because of the numbers involved the film is limited to showing events from the perspective of the few, and possibly over-simplifies things.

hotel3I suppose my issue with this film -that perhaps it is ‘only’ a thriller is wholly unfair. But the polarisation of the world today, of good and evil and the fevered hysterics of both national and international politics of our day… this week alone in the UK we have witnessed our Parliament reduced to heated arguments more suited to a drunken rabble in a pub than the distinguished statesmen those elected representatives should be. I hold modern news media to blame for this (personality politics is a very modern 24-hour news thing, as journalists turn news into entertainment with viewing figures in mind) as much as social media. My contention is that perhaps film should do more than just dramatise events such as this, perhaps it should add some commentary somehow. How you do this without inflaming peoples viewpoints or world-beliefs I don’t know- maybe you can’t, hence my consideration that my issue is likely unfair.

So the terrorists are monsters, and the film only makes a perfunctory attempt to get into their reasoning, their mindset. The film suggests that they are victims themselves, coerced into the carnage by shadowy figures back in Pakistan who have masterminded the attack.  The awful inhumanity of killing innocent civilians, and how the terrorists have justified it in their minds so those civilians are perceived as infidels and indeed as sub-human, is something too large for a thriller such as this to encompass really. Maybe no film could. The fascination in films about serial-killers for example, is partly that ‘thing’ about getting into their minds, how they reason, function, see other people as victims/prey. How do you get into the minds of terrorists without being charged with rationalising their atrocities?  And if you don’t try, isn’t that over-simplification demonising them? Failing to get to the reasons why the world is as polarised as it is? Is it East vs West, Poor vs. Rich, is it national power-brokering or religious jihad?

Hotel Mumbai necessarily skirts around such issues as it just presents what happened within the perimeters of a thriller. It doesn’t make it a bad film, but it does leave it a strangely frustrating, albeit riveting film that likely could have been something more.

London Has Fallen (2016)

lf12016.81: London Has Fallen (DVD)

“Whats wrong?” 

“Nothing. Bugs the shit out of me.”

“Fuck. They’re not real cops.”

“God damn it, Mike.”

“Fuck. Comms are down.”

“How bad is it?”

“Its pretty goddam bad, sir.”

“Its a fucking bloodbath. How did they do it, Mike?”

“They only have to get it right once. Today they got it right way more than that.”

“I never thought you would outlive me.”

“Me neither.”

“Do me a favour? Stay alive. You gotta see your kid. Make the fuckers pay.”

“I will.”

“Aamir Barkawi. This man is responsible for more deaths than the plague.”

“I’ve never seen a man suffocate before.”

“I didn’t have a knife.”

“How many you think died?”

“I don’t know. A lot.”

“All those innocent people. Dead. Because of me.”

“No, not because of you. Because of them. They’re trying to kill you, sir. And they’ve killed all of those people just to make everyone else a little more afraid. Well, fuck that and fuck them!”

“What if you don’t come back?”

“You’re fucked!”

“Where we going next, Mike?”

“Embassy.”

“Embassy? You said they’re expecting that.”

“They are. But we are shit out of options.”

“Central London. Right under our bloody noses. Tell SAS that we’re gonna make a house call.”

“Look, we can’t let you come with us, mate.”

“How many times have you saved this man’s ass? Now, I’m gonna go get him, and you can either kill me, or you can come with me, but it ain’t gonna go any other way.”

“You don’t understand. Its their base of operations. There are nearly a hundred terrorists in there.”

“Yeah? Well, they should have brought more men.”

“Things are going to get sporty. Watch your balls.”

“Are you fucking crazy?”

“Yeah. Wish me luck.”

“I won’t justify your insanity to make you feel better about yourself.”

I don’t know if this film has the worst dialogue of any film I have ever seen, or if its deliriously brilliant action movie gibberish. Either the film is the worst thing I have seen in weeks, or the towering summation of where the action movie has been going for the past decade. Or maybe both. I don’t know. I’m frankly in a daze. Astonishingly stupid nonsense.

Then again, in the real world we are currently facing an imminent election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and one of those two is soon going to be the president of the United States. No wonder people enjoy the comparative safety and reassurance of films like Olympus Has Fallen and London Has Fallen. At least in the movies, the president is an honest heroic good guy with principles who is handsome, handy with a machine gun and not averse to shooting the bad guys himself. People enjoy the fairy tale more, I think. No wonder a third film in this franchise is in the offing.

Olympus Has Fallen (2013)

olympus1Its big and its loud and its dumb, and yes, its Die Hard 6 in all but name. Frustratingly so, because that Die Hard reference isn’t just an indication of the genre, its an indication of the actual plot and its twists and turns- it mirrors the Die Hard template so completely you’d be forgiven that the seizing of the White House is actually a ruse and that there’s a bank situated next door, or that the White House basement itself has a safe full of priceless jewels.  Its one of those movies that does everything by the book- its characters, its plot, its action sequences. There’s no surprises at all. There’s no harm in it- this film is simply what it is. It’s Die Hard In The Whitehouse, minus Bruce Willis, of course. You can imagine the pitch to the studio and the film lives up to it. Its a dumb action romp with, well, lots of action. But it is incredibly, incredibly lazy.

There’s a section where a helicopter full of hostages/terrorists leaves the  White House lawn and two security guys are watching- one of them vents his frustration, obviously to mirror the audience’s feeling and heighten the tension, the other responds, “Its ok, there’s a tracker on the helicopter!”. Of course in a real situation both would be calm and both would be aware of the tracking device, but in the movie its all about the dialogue explaining stuff to the audience. This film isn’t attempting to mirror reality at all. Watching it we are in a parallel universe, a movie universe in which characters verbalise their internal reasoning, their feelings and motivations, and in which everyone is such an idiot that everyone else has to explain everything to them because that’s the way things are explained to the audience too- the dialogue explains everything that we see, so much so that at times its like its a commentary track.  Its lazy but its how these movies work. Across town where the acting President (played of course by statesmanlike Morgan Freeman) has his emergency briefing room with dozens of aides and military staff, the screen is full of goggle-eyed actors wincing and groaning and shaking their heads at everything they see and hear during the movie, heightening tension and yes, aides with dialogue that explain everything stage by stage to Freeman and the audience, and of course if anything goes ‘right’ they are whooping and applauding- its another way of the movie telegraphing everything to the audience. Its very lazy and condescending but its all straight out of Scriptwriters 101.

And of course its that parallel universe where the President is noble and good and heroic. He’s the man who does the Right Thing. He’s in no way a conniving political creature trying to survive in a sea of corruption and vested interests. And this is America the International arm of Justice and Good, not the America that interferes and undermines democratically elected governments to further its own political machinations. And all the Bad Guys are foreigners, and even the one treacherous Bad American  realises he’s done wrong and does right at his very last. Man, imagine Oliver Stone making this movie! Now that would be interesting!

For all that, this isn’t a bad movie, just a depressingly familiar one. Its strange that its true worth isn’t as entertainment but rather for how it betrays how so many films are made these days. It really is a lesson in how plots are strung out, character arcs set-up, how dialogue and voice-overs can replace good storytelling by ‘fixing’ bad storytelling. How actor’s reaction shots can inform how the audience should be feeling or thinking. Its all manipulation. For all that, its just an action movie. And it could have been much worse.

The film also has one last lesson: success bears repeating, so this film having proven popular enough to warrant a sequel is getting one set this time across the pond in our own dear old London. Brittania Has Fallen doesn’t have quite the ring to it so I do wonder what kind of title the spin-meisters have set for it (actually, I just looked, and it has the sadly unimaginative title London Has Fallen). As for the plot, well, I guess we all can hazard an idea but I’m certain it will be… rather familiar.