Director: Drew Pearce
Cast: Jodie Foster, Dave Bautista, Sterling K. Brown, Sofia Boutella, Jeff Goldblum, Zachary Quinto, Charlie Day, Brian Tyree Henry, Jenny Slate
‘Dystopian future’ settings are often all the rage in fiction, perhaps because the reality of them can seem downright terrifying, and frankly that, along with a character’s personal journey, makes for good entertainment (usually). All the more so when said future looks evermore possible thanks to the constant barrage of mistakes made in reality by those put in the position to make it happen. It’s like a warning that we seem to refuse to heed. Hotel Artemis, whilst set not all that far in the future, is a stepping stone (quite likely the very next one) into a future that is all the time looking more possible, which is a worrying thought. So with its entertainment aspects versus its social commentary, does it hit the mark in the way fiction such as 1984, A.I. Artificial Intelligence and Wall-E have, or is it another one we can just sweep under the bloodied carpet?
Set in the very near future, the Hotel Artemis is a ‘dark room’, a place for criminals to get fixed up without police awareness. It’s based in Los Angeles, a city that is currently suffering from major riots as water supplies become privatised and regular people are unable to afford it. Artemis is owned, along with most of L.A, including its police force, by a kingpin known as the Wolf King (Goldblum) but run by an older woman named the Nurse (Foster). The Nurse suffers from extreme anxiety and is possibly agoraphobic; she is aided by a ‘healthcare professional’, Everest (Bautista), both in her day-to-day duties and in maintaining the hotel. There are four suites in the hotel: Honolulu, Acapulco, Niagara and Nice. The name of each room is given as a code name to whomever is occupying the room. On ‘just another Wednesday’, two criminal brothers, code-named Honolulu (Henry) and Waikiki (Brown) – the latter code-named so due to staying in the Honolulu suite with his injured brother – arrive at the hotel. Over the course of the night hotel rules are broken by guests and characters’ pasts and presents collide to create all sorts of havoc, leaving the role Hotel Artemis has to play in the current climate in doubt.
Plot-wise, it’s a small one. It focuses on its characters rather than the world at large. We know there’s a riot because of the water situation, but we don’t know what else is going on in the world, and if the characters, or at least the Nurse, weren’t so interesting, this could have done the film a disservice. The riots are turning more and more people into criminals, looting and murdering whilst the authorities are distracted. This is then what leads Honolulu and Waikiki to Hotel Artemis. In the Acapulco suite is a potty-mouthed, misogynistic arms dealer and in the Nice suite is a female assassin-for-hire who ‘only kills important people’. All interesting characters in themselves, even if they don’t have a whole lot of depth to them. That is left to the Nurse. She’s been at the Artemis for twenty-two years and is very staunch about the rules. About ten minutes after her introduction, we want to know more about her. Well, on the one hand we don’t, because she can pull off an intriguing air of mystery, but on the other hand we do, because in order to become the Nurse she must have quite the past. And we’re not exactly disappointed with her revelations. Other than the bank robbery at the beginning, the entire film is set in one night, giving it this overruling darkness that sums everything up: every character is under some kind of dark shadow, which in itself reveals a lot.
Jodie Foster, in her first role since 2013’s Elysium, is spellbinding. She was clearly made-up to look older for the role, and everything, from her mannerisms and wise-cracks to the way she runs, has been thoughtfully constructed to create this endearing, caring and strong woman. She carries the film and gives it the depth and intrigue that could so easily have been lost on a lesser actress. Bautista as her loyal assistant Everest is just as wonderful as he is in his role as Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy. The characters themselves are not too far apart – they’re alone and looking to someone else for guidance, needing somewhere to belong. Bautista’s chemistry with Foster is superb, making the Nurse/Everest friendship something to look forward to every time they’re onscreen together. Brown makes Waikiki much more well-rounded than your average criminal, and Boutella is her usual badass self, being quite reminiscent of Charlize Theron’s Lorraine Broughton in Atomic Blonde. Charlie Day takes a step away from being a funny/nice guy and plays a downright asshole, and he is downright good at it and should do it more often – he makes his character so deplorable and easily hate-able. Goldblum’s Wolf King is fearsome in his understated dialogue, a dialogue that only someone like Goldblum could pull off (though it can be tough to take him entirely seriously, given that it’s, well, Jeff ‘life finds a way’/Thor: Raganarok Goldblum). Quinto has just a small role as the Wolf King’s son and potential heir to Hotel Artemis, which he provides well enough, though it’s nothing to write home about.
Artemis was the Greek goddess of animals, hunting, birth and a protector of women. That gives it a fairly loose connection to the characters of the film, but otherwise doesn’t entirely make sense as a metaphor, if that is indeed its intention. Perhaps Hotel Soteria (the actual Greek goddess of protection) doesn’t quite have the same ring to it. The story as a whole isn’t really even about protection – it’s about survival. The setting is apt – privatising water isn’t an entirely unlikely scenario, particularly in the U.S, a country where the government sees fit to privatise healthcare. There’s also some commentary on the use of guns in the States: ‘This is America. Eighty-five per cent of what I fix is bullet holes.’ The only aspects that really make the film futuristic is its use of holograms, the artificially intelligent hospital equipment and the police uniforms/riot gear. Otherwise it could very easily be set in the here and now. According to Wikipedia, the film is set just ten years from now, so it may as well be. To repeat an earlier sentiment, it’s a worrying thought.
Hotel Artemis could easily have fallen by the wayside, but there’s something about it that keeps it on the right track. Whether that’s Foster, its wider story and futuristic warnings or something else entirely is up to the viewer to decide in what they take away from it. That’s not to say it doesn’t miss out on some potential: the cinematography could have been stretched more, particularly in any action or fight sequences, and perhaps venturing into the wider world in the screenply, even just a little more, could have made the dire situation of the future its suggesting seem that much more terrifying. And the title doesn’t entirely make sense. But overall it packs a punch, and is perfectly timed at its hour-and-a-half length. There seems to be some sort of opening for a sequel, but it would be totally unnecessary: a matter of waiting to see if Hotel Artemis proves as prophetic as other futuristic films is sequel enough. One can only hope not.