This is a tense and very well made thriller, all the more moving for being based on real life, namely the siege of the Taj Hotel by a group of terrorists in Mumbai, India in 2008.
The siege was actually one of several terrorist incidents all carried out in the same day, including a horrific attack on the railway station and another at a restaurant, which are touched on in the film but it chooses to concentrate on the most dramatic, namely the three day terrorising of the guests and staff trapped inside the hotel.
The film opens with the arrival of a group of young jihadists in the city, armed to the teeth and with the insidious voice of their controller (Pawan Singh) dripping continuous vocal poison into their ears throughout, encouraging them to murder “the infidels”.
And when the terrorists burst into the hotel lobby, guns blazing, the indiscriminate slaughter is totally shocking.
Guests who are besieged in the hotel include a rich young couple, David (Armie Hammer) and Zahra (Nazanin Boniadi), rejoicing in their young baby, and the baby’s nanny Sally (Tilda Cobham-Hervey), who goes to great lengths to protect her charge. The staff, including chef Hemant Oberoi (Anupam Kher) and young Sikh waiter and father Arjun (Dev Patel), decline the opportunity to escape via the kitchen back stairs early on, choosing to stay and risk their lives in order to protect their guests. Also on the guest list is a Russian oligarch (Jason Isaacs), who looks like being a bad guy – before the attack he appears to be planning a sex party in his suite – but turns out to have a few surprises up his sleeve.
Filmed in Australia and India, this is a remarkable feature film directing debut by Greek Australian Anthony Maras. He and co-writer John Collee have created a first class script, strong characters with whom we identify and once the siege begins, the tension of Maras’s direction is beautifully paced and nail biting, up there with the best of disaster movies.
While not holding back on the horror of the jihadist’s ruthless killing, Maras does allow moments for them to be shown too as victims of those who have brainwashed them, particularly Amandeep Singh as Imran.
Although lacking the big star names of the mega budget Hollywood action movies – Hammer, Patel and Isaacs are probably the best known names to Western audiences – this gripping real life drama is well up to and indeed excelling much of the Hollywood product and deserves to reach a wide audience.