The rules are simple: only members get in, no weapons.
Tonight, both those rules are going to be broken...
This movie would make for a great remake in 20 years (or a Netflix series any time). What makes this movie kind of dispiriting is that it is trying to do something I love and wish more genre movies would do: a story based around characters with no defined backstories, whose personalities are defined by their actions in THIS narrative.
There is a fashion nowadays to expand upon and dissect characters - this is based on the industry's current focus on building franchises from existing IP, and in a more tangential way, from the way a certain vocal segment of the viewing public watches movies (i.e. as single instalments in on-going narratives).
Hotel Artemis feels more classical in focus: we are introduced to a group of mysterious characters in a single location, each in the middle of their own story.
The title location is an interesting idea: a hospital for criminals. And as a log line, the plot sounds like a great thriller - someone breaks the rules and the whole operation collapses into chaos.
The problem is that the movie is both too complicated in the number of characters with their own stories, and a clear dramatic through-line to build and sustain the movie's tension.
It's a pity because the cast are uniformly terrific: Jodie Foster plays the Nurse who runs the hotel - she's great, but the movie spends so much time juggling everyone else's stories that her eventual arc feels like an afterthought. Sterling K. Brown and Brian Tyree Henry are also great as two bank-robbing brothers. It is a classic noir-tinged relationship of a man who has to do one last job to keep his sibling on the (relative) straight and narrow. Once again, their storyline feels sidelined.
It's no secret that I am a fan of Sofia Boutella and her Legs of Death. Aside from her physical talents, she is really good actress who has not really been given a role that can really show off her capabilities. Playing an international assassin with a sliver of heart tissue, she is undermined by a redemptive arc that never really comes into focus. She has an unspoken history with Brown's character which is one of the film's most interesting threads as she has to weigh her assignment against old feelings for Brown.
My main problem is that there is no real sense of escalation to the situation. All the pieces are there - the brothers have accidentally stolen a fortune that belongs to the crime lord (Jeff Goldblum) who owns the Hotel; the same crime lord has been wounded and his entourage are inbound to secure the location; the Nurse has broken her own rule to let an outsider into the facility; Boutella's assassin has infiltrated the Hotel to break its cardinal rule (no killing)...
All of these pressure points are solid, but are deployed in such a fashion that there is no escalation of stakes. The intent is clearly there for these various perils to feel like a series of different, horrible events leading to one collective cataclysm, but the finale never reaches that level of peril.
Sure, there is plenty of violence, but it never feels like our key players are genuinely in dire straits.
This movie is not an outright failure, but it always feels like you you can see where another draft of the script - and some tightening in the edit - could have pulled everything into focus, and turned Hotel Artemis into a genuine pressure cooker.
As a home rental, Hotel Artemis is a serviceable but flawed potboiler. The cast is great (including Charlie Day as a sleazy arms dealer), the world-building is intriguing, and the final action set piece is fun, but ultimately it never comes together.
If you are new to this blog, I also co-host a podcast on James Bond called The James Bond Cocktail Hour. Every episode, we do a review of one of the books and one of the movies, picked at random.
The latest episode is out today - to get in the holiday spirit, we review the 1969 film On Her Majesty's Secret Service, starring George Lazenby. Available wherever you get your podcasts.