2018, R, 97 min. Directed by Drew Pearce. Starring Jodie Foster, Sterling K. Brown, Sofia Boutella, Jeff Goldblum, Zachary Quinto, Charlie Day, Brian Tyree Henry, Jenny Slate, Dave Bautista.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., June 8, 2018
In the near-distant future in which the city of Los Angeles has become a nonstop riot zone, the Hotel Artemis stands in plain sight as a secret, members-only hospital for criminals. And business is practically breaking down the door on the day this movie takes place.
Medicine, not hospitality, is doled out by Hotel Artemis’ resident clinician, the Nurse (aka Jean Thomas), played magnificently by Jodie Foster, aged up as a no-nonsense, 65-year-old agoraphobe. With wrinkles and stringy hair, an odd gait and a flat, unmelodious accent (fortunately, miles more natural sounding than the awkward accent Foster tried on in her last movie, Elysium, five years ago), the Nurse is an unlikely star of an action movie/crime thriller. Yet this is one of the major delights of Hotel Artemis: a plot that posits a damaged, Medicare-aged woman as its central figure. And that the role is executed by a two-time Oscar-winning actress delivering her best work in many years makes this a rare treat.
Despite its setting in 2028 and the inclusion of some medical advances, Hotel Artemis is not a science fiction film. It’s a crime thriller unconcerned with whodunit and why. WTF is more accurately the film’s primary question. Drew Pearce, who wrote the Iron Man 3 screenplay and the story for Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, here makes his solo writing and directing debut, and his tight control of this film’s story mechanics guarantees Hotel Artemis won’t be his last. Pearce surrounds his improbable protagonist, about whom we gradually learn more background, with a murderer’s row of colorful supporting characters. The movie conveys a comic-book feel that presents full-panel close-ups of the hospital’s distinctive denizens who sport names like Acapulco (Day), Nice (Boutella), Waikiki (Brown), and Honolulu (Henry) – monikers that identify characters by their hospital room themes. The Nurse’s orderly/henchman is Everest (WWE crossover Bautista), and her last patient of the night is the notorious Wolf King (Goldblum), the secret hospital’s founder and the Nurse’s employer. Outside, street riots rage but their reasons and casualties are far removed from the Artemis’ sick bay. At one point, we hear something about a dominant corporation turning off the city’s water supply, yet the riots offer only a chaotic backdrop rather than the instigation of action. This is one medical facility more cautious about who enters than who exits.
While learning the rules of this operation bit by bit (strictures include “no killing the other patients”), Pearce also teases out more information about the characters. The images captured by cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon (a frequent collaborator of Park Chan-wook’s) crisply showcase this strange universe, and the soundtrack by Cliff Martinez (Traffic, Drive, The Neon Demon) propels the action ever forward. (In her bedroom, the Nurse keeps a phonograph record of the Mamas & the Papas singing “California Dreamin'” on manual repeat near a bottle of whiskey, identifying her as someone who is lost in the past.)
With all the activity deriving from its basic concept of a members-only hospital for criminals, Hotel Artemis feels like a throwback to a earlier, more stripped-down era of action movies in which a good idea was a sufficient platform on which to drape fine acting and creative execution. It’s a certainty that you will never run into anyone as bland as TV’s persistent Trivago vacation shill during your visit to Hotel Artemis.
For an interview with Sofia Boutella, read "Checking in to the Hotel Artemis," June 7.