“Hotel Artemis” is a shining example of how it is not the amount of money spent to make a movie, but how the budget is being spent.
Director-writer Drew Pearce has managed to take the money that would be the cape-pressing budget for most superhero movies and create a high-energy, gritty-looking and prophetically scary tale set in the near future that comes across as big as any summer blockbuster but offers far more bang for the bucks in the writing, visuals and acting.
The film looks at “a typical Wednesday night” in the year 2028. The streets of downtown Los Angeles are the location for the most violent riot in the city’s history. All the blue war-painted protesters want is clean water, something that has become a premium in the state because of corporate greed.
Four men wearing skull masks find themselves in the middle of a failed bank heist in which one of the robbers gets wounded. Sherman Atkins (Sterling K. Brown) must get his brother, Lev Atkins (Brian Tyree), to the only place criminals can get medical attention, Hotel Artemis, without attracting the attention of the law. The medical care is given by the no-nonsense woman known only as The Nurse (Jodie Foster).
The film is a compelling visual as either “Blade Runner” movie from Pearce’s depiction of the riot-filled streets of Los Angeles to the guest rooms for the patients that reflect a passion for the exotic that has faded.
Pearce has created a believable world that looks to be on the doorstep of being post-apocalyptic. The way the director keeps the action confined to a minimal amount of sets (partly because of budget restrictions) works because it creates a playlike structure with more of an emphasis on the actors than on the action.
And, “Hotel Artemis” is filled with standout performances topped by an Oscar-worthy effort by Foster, who in recent years has been more content to work behind the cameras instead of in front of them.
Foster transforms herself from her world-weary face to a way of shuffling when she walks that suggests a life of pain and suffering ignored to spend more time helping others. This is one of the Oscar-winner’s best and most memorable performances.
That’s because Pearce was so willing to cast against type with her and Brown. His performance as the always-planning thief couldn’t be any more different than his work on “This Is Us.” It’s a chance for Brown to show his range and in the process create a character who is smart, loyal and just a little dangerous.
The unusual casting continues through Dave Bautista, Charlie Day, Jenny Slate and Zachary Quinto. ‘Hotel Artemis” gives Bautista a chance to show he can do more than flex his muscles, while Day plays the most despicable character of his career. One of the biggest surprises is Slate, who is often cast in lighter projects, but this dramatic role pays off.
Every bit of casting works. Pearce is able to bridge the worlds of great acting and superb action through Sofia Boutella, who plays Nice, an assassin for hire. Generally, Boutella plays the role with a scary likability that is at its best in scenes with Brown. She is also involved with one of the best confined space fight sequences in film since “Captain America: Winter Soldier.”
Getting both a very human and very deadly performance from Boutella is another example of how Pearce has shown great prudence in making the movie. Everything about the movie works, whether it is viewed as just another summer popcorn movie or as a small independent film driven by a compelling story and performances.
The film was made on a low budget, but it wasn’t cheaply made. Don’t have any reservations about checking out “Hotel Artemis.”