Film: Hotel Artemis

Dystopian science fiction film Hotel Artemis (2018) is an extreme rarity: a movie I saw in the theater on the exact day I first heard of it. Even though my expectations were nonexistent, I’m still surprised how much I liked it—although its bleak scenario didn’t do much for my rapidly evaporating faith in humanity.

Set in the climate-change hellscape of future Los Angeles, Hotel Artemis delivers us to a secret hospital for criminals run by Nurse (Jodie Foster), a quirky doctor whose competent, professional exterior conceals a haunted past. Aided only by her enormous orderly Everest (Dave Bautista), Nurse specializes in patching up criminals in trouble, without asking questions. But she also has a strict code—one that’s about to face challenges. Her troubles begin when Waikiki (Sterling K. Brown) brings his gut-shot brother Honolulu (Brian Tyree Henry) in for treatment. They join a guest list that includes Nice (Sofia Boutella), a ruthless assassin, and Acapulco (Charlie Day), a deplorable arms dealer. As water riots rage outside, the intrigue escalates indoors. Nurse’ reprehensible guest list turns out to be a volatile mix of conflicting hidden agendas, and things are about to get worse: the criminal overlord of LA, Niagara (Jeff Goldblum), is on his way in for treatment.

On a quick glance, Hotel Artemis may look like little more than a science fictional platform for grimdark ultraviolence, and it certainly delivers on that score. But there’s more going on than that, thanks to crafty political metaphor, intricate plotting, and nicely designed characters and relationships. Nurse is particularly well rendered, brought endearingly to life by Foster’s nuanced, charismatic performance. But the den of thieves has other sympathetic characters. Brown is definitely a star on the rise, and Bautista—a real bright spot in the uneven Guardians of the Galaxy franchise—is even more likable here. Yes, the plot threads are contrived, and the political messaging is blunt. But it plays out slickly, and scores points as a potent critique of systemic American cruelty. The touching professional relationship between Nurse and Everest, really, is my favorite part of the film; their mutual resilience in the face of trying circumstances gives the film the needed kernel of hope and heart. Our current political chaos and environmental worries will make this a difficult watch for some viewers, but its an effective movie of its type, a blend of Die Hard thrills and Snowpiercer allegory that’s uniquely emblematic of its era.

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