D: Drew Pearce / 94m
Cast: Jodie Foster, Sterling K. Brown, Sofia Boutella, Jeff Goldblum, Charlie Day, Dave Bautista, Jenny Slate, Zachary Quinto, Brian Tyree Henry
In the US in 2028, water has become a precious, but privatised commodity. When punitive restrictions are put in place by the company that controls the water supply, a riot breaks out that sweeps through Los Angeles. Using the riot as a cover, brothers Sherman (Brown) and Lev (Henry), plus two accomplices, plan to rob the vault of an up-market bank. Their plan backfires, and during their escape, Sherman and Lev are wounded by the police, Lev quite seriously. They manage to get to the Hotel Artemis, a kind of field hospital for criminals, where they are safe from the police, and thanks to the rules, any other criminals who might be there. Run by Nurse (Foster), with assistance from “health care professional” Everest (Bautista), the Artemis offers anonymity in the form of code names based around the room(s) they stay in. With female assassin Nice (Boutella) and loud-mouthed arms dealer Acapulco (Day) already there, Sherman begins to wonder just how safe he and his brother are going to be, especially when Nurse lets in a wounded police officer (Slate) – otherwise a strict no-no – and word reaches them that local crime boss, and founder of the Artemis, the Wolf (Goldblum) is on his way, and in need of medical attention…
Let’s get the obvious comparison out of the way: the Hotel Artemis is the medical facility version of the Continental Hotel in the John Wick movies. But that’s as far as the comparison goes, because in the self-assured hands of writer/director Drew Pearce, Hotel Artemis is a tribute to an era gone by, a high-tech yet nostalgic shout out to a time when honour amongst thieves actually meant something. By pitching the movie ten years on, Pearce is able to draw a distinction between the growing feudal state of affairs outside the hotel, and the semblance of order that Nurse feels compelled to uphold within the hotel’s walls and its rooms. It’s meant to be a neutral base for everyone, but machinations and plotting abound, and it’s not long before alliances are being forged, threats are being backed up, and an escalating sense of impending violence is allowed to bear fruit. The sense of an era coming to an end, imploding in on itself, is highlighted by the encroaching riot, and the swift descent of the hotel “guests” into murderous anarchy. There are rules, but once they begin to be broken, there’s no difference between inside and outside.
Pearce handles all this with a downplayed sense of fun, casting cruel aspersions on the morality of his characters – even the “good guys” do some unpalatable things in this movie – and by making sure everyone suffers to one degree or another. The humour is pitch black at times, but plays in support to the drama rather than overwhelming it, and Pearce draws out strong perfprmances from his cast, with Foster reminding us just how good an actress she is, while Brown continues his rise to the A-list, and Boutella exudes a silky menace that is captivating and unpleasant at the same time. Some things, however, are less successful. Slate’s wounded police officer awkwardly provides Nurse with a back story that feels forced and unnecessary, and Day’s obnoxious, sexist arms dealer seems like a throwback to the Nineties. But the real MVP of the movie is the Artemis itself, a triumph of cinematography, lighting, production design, art direction and set decoration that reflects the tired glory of the premises through the faded glamour of its hallways and rooms. It’s the perfect setting in which to record the end of an era…
Rating: 8/10 – flecked with nostalgia and a wistful harking back to simpler times, Hotel Artemis is a violent crime thriller that has a surprising amount of heart, and which tells its story with a welcome measure of simplicity; boosted by the detailed backdrop of the hotel itself, it’s a welcome entry into a sub-genre of crime drama that has slowly been cannabalising itself for far too long.