Director: Drew Pearce
Screenplay: Drew Pearce
Starring: Jodie Foster, Sterling K. Brown, Sofia Boutella, Jeff Goldblum, Brian Tyree Henry, Jenny Slate, Zachary Quinto, Charlie Day, Dave Bautista
Runtime: 94 Minutes
When it comes to the lower budget end of imaginative/speculative genre fiction, sometimes getting by on the tricks it can pull to fulfil the vision is enough to get by, be them through casting, style or the trickery of manoeuvring narratives and character work. Hotel Artemis is a film that ticks a lot of these boxes at once with an air of elemental familiarity, and while it never really feels like something reaching for a higher metaphorical goal or attainment of transcendence, what it does deliver on is a tight, knowing and outstandingly realised piece of entertainment that’s an absolute blast to watch.
The plot follows Jean Thomas/The Nurse (Jodie Foster), a nurse who runs a secret hospital for criminals in futuristic Los Angeles populated with colourful characters whose paths intertwine in an elaborate but intelligent manner. It spends much of its time establishing the players, their roles, their motivations and dynamics before throwing spanners in the works at the expense of one another and watching the carnage unfold in its beat a minute final act.
The world here feels like the 11th-hour nightmare of the current now. The Los Angeles of 2028 is a place of violent conflict and riots spurred on by the omnipresent water wars. Mentions of “walls to the south” and comments on the nature of the poor and rich divide echo the raging vocal battles that rage today, but here is the reality that fills in the apocalyptic landscape and atmosphere or its backdrop. It’s not necessarily trying to say anything regarding it, but as worldbuilding detail upon which to set its stage is dynamite.
The script really is the primary weapon of choice here. Drew Pearce hasn’t been on the blockbuster scene for long, but his work on Iron Man 3 was no fluke and he really proves himself here with a lean and smartly constructed screenplay that leaves very few extraneous factors lying about by the end. His visual storytelling as a director allows a payoff to pretty much every prop, location or line of dialogue that passes in the frame.
His wicked tongue for the latter element allows exchanges to crackle and burn as backstories and relationships are cleared through the manners in which the actors deliver them. It plays like a noir with multiple trains of thought running concurrently and crossing over one another with precision and a pace that never lets its less action-heavy majority lapse or falter.
The editing is strong, the score is great and the setting of a hospital disguised in the collapsing ruins of a once opulent golden age Hollywood hotel is a pleasing aesthetic divergence that fills the film with as much personality as its dialogue. The technologies are just advanced enough to feel believable yet futuristic while still watching the Hotel succumb to the power outages caused by the war on their doorstep.
The actors themselves are a fantastic line-up with memorable interactions and demises, many of whom feel written for the roles they inhabit. Such as Charlie Day’s sleazy and obnoxious arms dealer, Sofia Boutella’s slinky and nimble assassin, and Jeff Goldblum as the big bad playing himself as best he can. Same does for Zachary Quinto as his snivelling and petulant offspring. Dave Bautista continues to show his dramatic range as ‘healthcare professional’ Everest, the heavy with a heart of gold, and Sterling K. Brown delivers solid work as the closest thing the audience has to a POV character.
But the star is Jodie Foster, never in the spotlight as much as she should be anymore and delivering her most memorable performance of the past decade. She fills The Nurse with an easy-going affection for the violent profession she is a part of, hobbling her way from room to room with a steady hand and acts of routine while constantly holding back the tears and sadness of her past. It’s very much her story of emerging from the cocoon that she has concealed herself in to better numb the pain, and recurring lines and themes of the difficulties of “getting out” return over and over again with layers of texture and shade added by her performance.
Its shortcomings might be that it doesn’t really strive for much more than what it is, with the action being held off until the final half hour stretch, summoned by an ominous countdown to the moment that shit hits the fan. But when it does it's brutal and satisfying and worth the wait and patience that’s given to it as Boutella and Bautista are allowed to fulfil their roles as the action stars of the vehicle.
Hotel Artemis is the tighter, sharper and more stylish version of the B-movie’s it cuts similar cloth from. It might not stand as a classic and mostly just does its job well with a small scale and engagement with characters and technical edifice, but what it needs to get right Drew Pearce nails hard and fast with energy and enthusiasm to spare.