Benjamin has been reviewing films online since 2004 and has seen way more action movies than he should probably admit to!
What's the Big Deal?
Hotel Artemis is an action thriller film released in 2018 and is the directorial debut of British screenwriter Drew Pearce. The film concerns the eponymous Hotel Artemis, a secret hospital and safe house run by the Nurse exclusively for criminal members. The film stars Jodie Foster in her first film role for five years, Sterling K. Brown, Sofia Boutella, Dave Bautista, Jeff Goldblum and Zachary Quinto. The film had a relatively small budget but was granted a wide release in the US, which resulted in a disappointing global return of $12 million. Critics gave the film a mixed reception, praising the cast and premise while admitting that the film itself squanders its intriguing set-up.
What's It About?
In the near future, violent riots have broken out over Los Angeles and criminal gangs take advantage of the chaos. Brother Sherman and Lev, together with Buke and P-22, escape from an attempted bank raid with the more valuable possessions of their hostages including a fancy pen that Lev was warned not to take. Cornered by police, they engage in a violent firefight which leaves Lev seriously injured. Sherman takes his brother to the nearby Hotel Artemis, a secret medical facility for criminals run by The Nurse and her oversized orderly Everest.
Codenamed Waikiki by the Nurse, Sherman meets the other visitors to the Artemis: slimy arms dealer Acapulco and French assassin Nice. But Sherman has bigger problems than his brother's injuries—crime boss The Wolf King is en route to the Artemis, himself injured while Nice, suffering from her own injuries, is actually laying in wait for her intended target and isn't afraid of breaking the hotel's strict rules in order to achieve her aim.
What's to Like?
For a small action film with modest ambitions, Hotel Artemis knocks it out of the park with its stellar cast. Foster, who looks and feels as though she hasn't been seen in movies for years, delivers a quality performance as the Nurse who could have been an underwritten role but offers plenty of depth at the centre of the story. I also enjoyed Bautista as the oversized orderly Everest, reprising a little of the no-nonsense character he embodies as Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy. Alongside an impossibly smooth Goldblum, sultry Boutella (who has been quietly making a name for herself recently) and a believable Brown, the film is full of performances that lift it beyond the genre standards.
I also liked the overall premise. Although it strongly reminded me of the Continental Hotel in John Wick, the concept of an underground criminal society with memberships and codes of conduct is an intriguing one and one which ultimately goes begging as the film descends into a claustrophobic shoot-out and pursuit. There are enough good ideas in this film that I wouldn't be averse to a sequel, one that expanded the concept a bit more and gave us something a little different to what we get here.
- The bank robber who gets shot and killed by police during the escape is played by singer-songwriter Father John Misty, credited under his real name Josh Tillman. He had met Pearce previously when one of his music videos was shot by the director.
- The Russian manufacturer of medical equipment used at the Artemis spells out 'covfefe' in Cyrillic.
- Part of the film's promotion involved reproducing classic book covers or film posters set in Los Angeles using actors in the film. Brown is seen on a reproduced cover of Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye and Day is seen in a poster reminiscent of American Gigolo.
What's Not to Like?
As I've already suggested, the film can't sustain its mystique for too long and it soon descends into a bloody and prolonged fight sequence in a run-down hotel. I might have minded quite so much but the plot exposition flies past in the blink of an eye so you need to pay close attention to the screen otherwise few things will make sense. For example, the reason why the Nurse takes in a police officer (strictly against the rules of the Artemis) is mentioned at some point but I never caught it, relying instead on the film's Wikipedia page to help me out. The same also goes for her sudden change in reaction to the Wolf King while he's been treated—it simply came out of nowhere and I never found out why.
The action, when it does come, feels poorly shot and impressionist as though Pearce weren't sure how best to frame it. I admit that it takes a certain skill to make action scenes look fast, frenetic and brutal—the co-directors of the aforementioned John Wick, Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, are two such individuals—and judging by Pearce's screenwriting past, he seems more comfortable with comedy than violent action thrillers. I wanted to like this more than I did and as I said earlier, I would be happy to welcome a sequel that properly utilises its set-up a little better. But as it stands, this feels like one hell of a missed opportunity.
Should I Watch It?
Hotel Artemis feels like it should be a much bigger film than it is with its ambitious and intriguing set-up as well as its amazing cast. But Pearce fails to inject the film with any stand-out moments or a gripping narrative, despite some decent performances from the likes of Boutella, Goldblum and Foster especially. Credit Pearce for trying and for stretching his budget as much as he did but I fear the project defeated him on this occasion. I kinda enjoyed my stay but I won't be recommending it any time soon.
Great For: neo-noir aficionados, anyone who has missed Jodie Foster, over-worked paramedics
Not So Great For: action fans, trailer suckers
What Else Should I Watch?
I mentioned John Wick because for all the gun-fu, explosions and dog killing, it's actually a very effective and stripped-back action film that doesn't rely on a complicated plot getting in the way. Plus it also has Keanu Reeves back in the sort of ass-kicking form we've not seen since we last saw him in sunglasses and a trench coat. For slightly more demented action that feels more like a video game, I suggest you watch Crank and its equally ridiculous sequel High Voltage, which both feature Jason Statham tearing LA a new one and poor Amy Smart running around in not much clothing.
Given the potential for storytelling in a place like a hotel (and I know, having worked in them for years), it's surprising that not many decent films seem to be set in one. Apart from the distinctly indie and award-hungry comedy The Grand Budapest Hotel, I'm struggling to think of another film I would watch set in a hotel. Yes, I know The Shining was set at the Overlook Hotel but it's not really related to the business of hospitality, is it? The same can be said for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which was more of a retirement home.
Does the Bates Motel in Psycho count?
Sterling K. Brown
Sherman / Waikiki
The Wolf King / Niagara
Brian Tyree Henry
Lev / Honolulu
Release Date (UK)
20th July, 2018
Action, Crime, Thriller
© 2018 Benjamin Cox
Benjamin Cox (author) from Norfolk, UK on September 24, 2018:
'Unsane' is more of a psychological thriller than a straight-up action shooter like 'Hotel Artemis'. I'd be lying if I said I had seen it but I appreciate the recommendation!
Pat Mills from East Chicago, Indiana on September 21, 2018:
I would recommend another 2018 film, Unsane, though it's not quite in the same vein as Hotel Artemis. Claire Foy stars as a victim of domestic abuse who seeks counseling, but winds up committed to a psychiatric hospital where she and others try and stay one step ahead of someone who means them harm. It's a good thriller with a twist ending from Steven Soderbergh.