❉ Drew Pearce’s directorial debut marshals great performances from what could be an intimidating cast and the pace never flags, writes Iain MacLeod.
Drew Pearce, it can be safely said, has had quite the career over the last decade. From his 2007 low budget ITV2 sitcom No Heroics, which detailed the off-hours get togethers of superpowered superheroes drowning their woes in their rules defined local, to the present day where his feature debut Hotel Artemis, set in a future where criminals rest and recuperate in a rule defined hotel/hospital. Along the way he has helped pen smash hits such as Iron Man 3 and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation which may go some way to explaining how he gathered such a top tier cast for his directorial calling card.
Set in the near future the Hotel Artemis is located in Los Angeles, going through another of its riot phases, this time against privatised water rights. A convincingly aged Jodie Foster runs a tight ship as The Nurse. (This is one of those films where all the characters are named after something in place of actual names, this time our cast of ne’er do wells are given geographic code names, the reasoning for doing so fits here, but only just, and this really is a practice that should have died out after the first wave of Tarantino knock-offs and rip-offs.) The Nurse, with the help of her hulking orderly Everest, a tough and endearing Dave Bautista, make sure that the rules are adhered to.
However, with the current residents including fleeing bank robbing brothers Waikiki and Honolulu, Sterling K. Brown and Atlanta’s very own Paper Boi, Brian Tyree Henry, mysterious femme fatale figure Nice played by Sophia Boutella and all around shady, obnoxious bastard Acapulco portrayed by an entirely unsympathetic Charlie Day, keeping said rules in check might be easier said than done. Particularly with the riot approaching closer by the minute and the presence of The Wolf King, a legendary underworld figure looming ever nearer.
It is a neat premise that has the potential to go in a number of directions with the further promise of some sly commentary on the U.S. healthcare system and the burgeoning issue of water rights but these are just window dressing, not really given any further inspection with the story it eventually settles on telling. Pearce seems content with his characters, watching them settle into their surroundings and bouncing off each other. In the early stages this is all good but as it progresses further to the finish line it soon becomes apparent that all that is on offer here is a number of promising set-ups that really fail to deliver anything satisfying. When it looks like it’s going to become a high stakes crime thriller where everyone is at each other’s necks it resolves such situations with unearned pay offs and in one instance a lazy case of coincidence. When it looks like it’s going to be a high-pressure action thriller it waits until the end before delivering one set piece which obviously owes its debts to The Raid and The Villainess, to be fair though Boutella more than acquits herself well in said scene and also with her character.
The cast are the main reason to check in here. (I just did a pun! Did you see that?) Foster in particular shines, as ever, playing a shut-in who hasn’t stepped past the foyer in years, all hurried, hunched over gait speeding around to tend to her patients. Dave Bautista’s screen career as a charismatic character actor goes from strength to strength, his intimidating yet easily offended Everest is the films most endearing asset, particularly in the way he interacts with Foster, fiercely protective of her but not afraid to call her out on her behaviour. Sterling K. Brown also stands out, with his supporting turns here and in the likes of Black Panther he shows that it is well past time that he should be taking centre stage in other productions of a similar ilk.
The main problem with the film is the characters themselves. Not that there is anything wrong with them, they are all sketched out excellently both by the script and the performances. Cramming them all into one film, in the same location with such a brief running time to boot, does them no favours however. They are all the leading women/men of their own particular scenes when they really should be the leading women/men of their own films. I haven’t even mentioned that Jeff Goldblum makes an appearance here doing his own sublime thing that he does these days to greater and greater effect, but alas like this season’s Jurassic Park 5: Jurassic World 2 – Fallen Kingdom, he isn’t in it enough.
Cliff Martinez supplies an effective score that alternately pounds and slithers under the onscreen action to great effect whilst the retro futuristic sheen in dark hues is nicely captured by Korean cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung, indeed the hotel itself is reminiscent of the one he brought to us before in Oldboy.
For a debut film there is much to give hope for with Pearce’s future efforts. He marshals great performances from what could be an intimidating cast and the pace never flags. It is a more than admirable effort and hopefully we will get to see him display his skills in this particular wheelhouse, mid budget genre filmmaking, again. If he can deliver a real payoff next time it could really be something.
❉ ‘Hotel Artemis’ (15) is released 20 July 2018. Director: Drew Pearce. Cast includes Jodie Foster, Sterling K. Brown, Dave Bautista, Sofia Boutella, Jeff Goldblum, Brian Tyree Henry, Jenny Slate, Zachary Quinto, Charlie Day. Running time 93 mins 57 secs.
❉ Iain MacLeod was raised on the North coast of Scotland on a steady diet of 2000AD and Moviedrome. Now living in Glasgow as a struggling screenwriter he still buys too many comics and blu-rays. Has never seen a ghost but heard two talking in his bedroom when he was 4.