13th Jul2018

‘Hotel Artemis’ Review

by Rupert Harvey

Stars: Sterling K. Brown, Jodie Foster, Dave Bautista, Sofia Boutella, Charlie Day, Jeff Goldblum, Brian Tyree Henry, Jenny Slate, Zachary Quinto, Kenneth Choi | Written and Directed by Drew Pearce

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Head nurse Jean Thomas (Jodie Foster) has been running Hotel Artemis – a sacred place where criminals can come to have their bleeding bodies healed, no questions asked – for over twenty years. Jean is agoraphobic, frumpy, meek yet principled. She’s woken one night by an incoming emergency. It’s Waikiki (This Is Us’s Sterling K. Brown, showing his leading man credentials), whose brother Honolulu (Bryan Tyree Henry) has been mortally wounded during a bank robbery.

As Honolulu recuperates, Waikiki meets the other guests. There’s hitwoman Nice (Sofia Boutella), who’s here to take out a VIP; Acapulco (Charlie Day), a vicious little loudmouth arms dealer; and Everest (Dave Bautista), Jean’s towering, soulful protector. Even while LA’s biggest ever riot rages outside, they are safe in the hotel – right?

Wrong. During the robbery, Honolulu stole something of great importance to The Wolf King of LA (Jeff Golblum), and now the Wolf and his son Crosby (Zachary Quinto) are coming to the hotel to get it back. Moreover, Jean and the Wolf have history – and not of the romantic kind. With the riot drawing close and the power failing, the stage is set for a final confrontation between the residents of Artemis and the incoming gangsters, who have absolutely no intention of following the no-gun/no-killing policy.

It’s 2028, yet the hotel looks like a crumbling relic, with its vacation-themed rooms and their faded promises of idyllic beach escapes – paintings which represent the lost dreams of Jean, whose life hit pause after a tragic loss. Even if her bereft, heart-of-gold mother figure doesn’t ring entirely true in the circumstances, Foster is excellent in the role: shuffling and anxious yet also determined, and desperate to a fault to uphold the professionalism and discipline of the establishment.

Writer-director Drew Pearce (making his directorial debut) seems to be deliberately baiting white alt-right males here, which is always good fun. Acapulco is the quintessential entitled misogynist, convinced not only of his superiority over Nice (regardless of how many times she kicks his ass) but also that she secretly desires him. Cosby is the definition of impotent male rage, stuck behind an impassable gate in the midst of a permanent tantrum. The sole hint of romance is interracial. And even Everest, who appears to be building up to the ultimate smackdown, plays second fiddle to Nice, who gets all the best moves. It’s ostensibly an action film, yet there’s little sustained action and its main focus is a bereaved elderly woman.

So, like The Last Jedi before it, Hotel Artemis is a genre film which revels in subverting expectations – a welcome pattern which comes at a cost. For while we may be pleasantly surprised by the focus on character and backstory, the satisfaction of the cathartic climax is never fully delivered (especially as it’s disappointingly choppily edited). Perhaps this is a result of the marketing, which would have us believe the film is akin to an expansion of John Wick’s Hotel Continental. It isn’t that. Hotel Artemis exists on a different plane to John Wick: more fantastical; more of a corrupted fairy tale.

The film is at its best when developing its characters – none of whom resemble actual human beings, and that’s okay – and mixes things up, putting them in unlikely pairings, whether it’s the distrusting Everest and a wounded cop, or the sultry Nice stuck in a room with the grotesque Acapulco. If only the story they occupied were stronger. Certain characters serve literally no narrative purpose other than adding texture (Kenneth Choi’s Buke is literally left out in the cold). Texture is good, but when the dialogue is a notch or two down from Tarantino, it can feel rather insubstantial.

But Tarantino doesn’t have the heart, and the journey of Jean – whose fear of the outside world is literalised by the incoming rioters – is undoubtedly a moving and quietly powerful arc. Hotel Artemis takes “honour amongst thieves” to the next level, sketching within its meagre 90 minutes a strong ensemble. Together, they may not amount to the ultimate superhero-antihero troupe one might be expecting, but they do deliver plenty of barbed, witty interplay. Coupled with the bold production design, complemented by Cliff Martinez’s evocative score, Hotel Artemis emerges as something unusual enough to gather a cult following over the years.

Hotel Artemis is out in cinemas from 20th July 2018.

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