There are some films that fly so far under the radar that they might as well have never been released. And many, if not most, of these films end up with poor ratings (surprise, surprise) and as financial failures (go figure). It is hard to discern why this happens, but poor marketing is often a factor, as is Hollywood politics.
Hotel Artemis is one such film. By no means an A-list film, it is nevertheless far better than its ratings and box office would suggest. Even the critics grudgingly admitted that it has a lot going for it, not least an incredibly interesting ensemble cast, as well as a visual style that is somewhere between Blade Runner and a slasher film. [N.B. There be spoilers here.]
The film takes place in Los Angeles in a not too distant dystopian future in which basic needs are controlled by corporations, and riots are frequent. When the corporation that controls water "turns if off," a particularly bad riot ensues. It is during this time that we are thrown into one of the most bizarre, yet entertaining and well-told, dystopian future stories I have seen (and I am a dedicated aficionado of dystopian future films.)
Hotel Artemis is a hospital and safe house for criminals. The actual hospital facility is on the penthouse floor of an otherwise abandoned hotel. It is something of a fortress, and its rooms are named for world cities (patients are addressed by their room names). And despite its rundown appearance, Hotel Artemis boasts state-of-the art medical equipment, including robotic surgery and 3D printed replacement organs. Note also that Hotel Artemis only runs successfully because of "the rules," which include: no fighting or killing, no visitors, no cops, and "what Nurse says goes." Ultimately, the first rule of Hotel Artemis is "obey the rules."
"Nurse" (a nearly unrecognizable Jodie Foster) is a severely agoraphobic nurse who actually functions more as a doctor. Her aide is "Everest" (Dave Bautista), who not only serves as a nurse, but also as facilities manager and "muscle." Current patients include "Waikiki" (Sterling K. Brown), an uninjured thief and "Honolulu" (Brian Tyree Henry), his badly injured brother, both fresh from a robbery gone bad; "Acapulco" (Charlie Day), a drug dealer with serious ego issues, getting patched up after his face is severely injured; and "Nice" (Sofia Boutella), a phenomenally dangerous assassin who is old friends with Waikiki. Into this mix comes an injured cop (Jenny Slate), who is only admitted (despite Everest's protestations) because she is an old friend of Nurse, and Orian Franklin (Jeff Goldblum), L.A.'s criminal kingpin -- and the founder and owner of Hotel Artemis -- who is badly injured after an assassination attempt. He arrives with his hapless son (Zachary Quinto) and a small army of henchmen. Only Orian is allowed inside, while his son and henchmen must wait in a small waiting area. As we will see, as the rules continue to get broken, things become increasingly chaotic -- and dangerous.
Unbeknown to anyone, Nice is actually there to assassinate Orian. (It is not made clear if she made the original attempt that brought him there, but we do hear her say that she had to shoot herself (a mild wound) in order to get into Hotel Artemis that night.) And her mission causes trouble for everyone, including the accidental death of Honolulu, and a riot by Orian's son and henchmen when they find out that Orian has been killed. This riot leads to Nice and Everest taking on the whole gang, while Nurse helps spirit away Waikiki. Having had almost every rule broken in one night, Nurse decides it is time to leave -- even in the face of her agoraphobia, which has kept her confined to the facility for many years.
The acting here is nothing short of superb. Foster gives one of her absolutely best, if oddest, performances, shuffling along from room to room, and speaking in a patter that is both endearing and sad. (Even in the worst reviews, her performance was noted for its excellence.) Bautista is an unexpectedly perfect partner and foil. He has always been a better actor than he is given credit for, but seeing him hold his own (and then some) with a titan like Foster is amazing. Goldblum does a solid job, and Brown is excellent. But it is Boutella who truly shines here. Playing a role somewhat similar to the one she plays in the "Kingsman" series, she is as fierce and formidable as any assassin we have seen in film in recent memory. She carries herself with a dangerous grace and absolute confidence, and she is relentless. (I would love to see a film series based on this character.)
The set and scenic design inside the facility are perfectly shabby, yet somehow comfortable-looking. The lighting is appropriately subdued, and the soundtrack is also appropriate (as part of her agoraphobia therapy, Nurse listens to classic rock on a CD player.) And the direction is perfectly controlled, allowing the story to unfold without the need for fancy camera angles or other filmmaking quirks. This is simply a well-written, well-directed film with acting much better than the material. It is a testament to the excellence of the cast that they make this bizarre story work so well.
Hotel Artemis has quickly become one of my "guilty pleasure" films -- a film I watch to the end whenever I channel-surf into it.