Written and directed by Drew Pearce (2018)
Starring Jodie Foster, Sofia Boutella, Sterling K. Brown, and Dave Bautista
Running time 1 hour 34 minutes
MPAA rating: R
by Deborah Krieger
Hotel Artemis would be a perfect double bill with a film like Snowpiercer. They’re both small-budget independent dystopian action films with impressively star-filled casts, wholly devoted to playing into their genres and undergirded with a sense of class consciousness. Snowpiercer is much more literal in its condemnation of economic oppression, where the surviving world’s poor are left to languish in filthy conditions at the back of the perpetually-moving train, their children stolen by the obscenely wealthy to make their lifestyles aboard the train possible. Hotel Artemis’ address of class inequality is a little more buried beneath the surface; or, rather, its decision to place the corporation controlling Los Angeles’s water supply in the role of the villain, rather than the individuals on the train in Snowpiercer, comes across as more subtle.
Indeed, the plot setup of Hotel Artemis feels much more realistic than that of Snowpiercer, with exaggerated examples of real-world precedents dialed up to eleven. While the world hasn’t ended in ice a la Snowpiercer, the increasing privatization of natural resources, rampant police brutality, and the concept of concierge doctors who only cater to the uber-wealthy are all things that exist in 2018. Setting Hotel Artemis in Los Angeles in 2028, therefore, feels entirely probable and allows the narrative’s themes of inequality and the extralegal privileges granted to the obscenely wealthy to feel like both recording of fact and cautionary tale. After all, the cops are on the ground in downtown Los Angeles, beating and abusing protesters who simply want the water turned back on, ignoring the presence of a literal hospital for assassins and other criminals a few stories up.
For a debut feature (directed by Drew Pearce, who also wrote the screenplay), Hotel Artemis is incredibly assured and aware of what it wants to do. The atmosphere of suspense and intrigue it creates in this expensive boutique medical center for wealthy criminals is vivid and rich in detail, from the codified list of rules of the hotel—including no murder, no guests, and, of course, membership dues paid upfront and in full—to the decoration of each vacation spot-themed room. The Nurse, played by Jodie Foster with a sense of brittle weariness, holds the fort, backed up by orderly Everest (Dave Bautista). But our way into the Hotel itself is through Sterling K. Brown (assigned the room and name Waikiki), who brings in his brother (Bryan Tyree Henry) for urgent medical care after a bank robbery goes sideways. While there, he tangles with assassin Nice (Sofia Boutella) and arms dealer Acapulco (Charlie Day), as well as with the Nurse, whose agoraphobia and deep-seated regret (that naturally gets explored later in the film) prevent her from ever leaving this particular (but not unique) establishment. But the Nurse soon must figure out how willing she will be to break her own rules when she decides to bring in an injured police officer (Jenny Slate) for emergency treatment because they knew each other back in the day. And when the violent Crosby Franklin (Zachary Quinto) calls to tell the Nurse that the mysterious Wolf King, the benefactor of Hotel Artemis (and essentially the crime boss ruler of Los Angeles), is on his way for treatment, all hell breaks loose.
See what I meant about a stacked cast? Every performance in the film is strong, although it sometimes seems as if characters like the Nurse and Crosby, whose mannerisms are a bit more animated and self-consciously actor-y, exist in a slightly more campy film than Sterling K. Brown’s character. Charlie Day brings his iconically squeaky voice and hair-trigger temper to hilariously loathsome heights, while Dave Bautista proves his career switch from wrestling to acting is no mere fluke. Sofia Boutella’s Nice has confidence and composure to spare, even if, underneath it all, she’s perhaps less than thrilled that her natural talent is for murdering people. If anything is less than ideal about Hotel Artemis—if it falls short in its storytelling aims—it’s perhaps a bit of an issue with the pacing of the narrative. It’s unclear how much time is really passing over the course of the film, especially with the ticking-clock urgency of the countdown to Mr. Wolf and his ominous entourage’s gradual arrival at the hotel. When the story weaves in the thread of the Nurse’s tragic past, and how that past led her to operate the Hotel, the emotional fallout is given short shrift; the Nurse’s character actually becomes more of a mystery as the film goes on than less of one.