The Motel Life Blu-ray Review
Jerry Lee comes into the motel to tell his sleeping brother, Frank, what just occurred. He insists they leave town immediately and that Frank take the wheel. On the way, he confesses that, after his wife booted him out, he went for a drive and accidentally struck a young boy on a bike, killing him.
It’s just the latest failure for Jerry Lee Flannigan (Stephen Dorff, in his best performance since Sofia Coppola’s SOMEWHERE), whose only breaks come in Frank’s (Emile Hirsch, PRINCE AVALANCHE) imaginative tales where Jerry Lee is cast as heroic figures. But those stories always end and Jerry Lee is back to reality, where he has a bad limp, dead-end jobs and too much beer.
Frank could leave his brother to his guilt and carry on by himself, but that’s not how he is. He tries to look after Jerry Lee the best he can and agrees to ditch Reno and head to Elko, where Frank’s old flame, Annie James (Dakota Fanning, THE TWILIGHT SAGA), can help.
So there are runaways, former loves, holes in the wall, fleabag motels and the will to outrun the law. THE MOTEL LIFE so badly wants to be a cinematic portrayal of a dingy country song that the parts equal a whole that is one familiarity after another.
But screenwriters Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster, adapting Willy Vlautin’s 2006 novel of the same name, don’t really care. They love their influences and throw them in any chance they can, and directors Alan and Gabriel Polsky (who served as producers on THE BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL – NEW ORLEANS and the Jerry Weintraub documentary HIS WAY) support it entirely. They even cast Kris Kristofferson (a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and who appeared in a few westerns prior, including Sam Peckinpah’s PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID) as the man of wisdom (“Don’t make decisions thinkin’ you’re a lowlife. Make decisions thinkin’ you’re a great man, at least a good man.”), throw in some nods to Willie Nelson and add a Johnny Cash/Bob Dylan number to the end credits.
The filmmakers surely know that song after song has been written about running from the law and drifting through life and so must be aware that their attempt won’t be fresh. And yet there is a level of confidence that makes the movie work. THE MOTEL LIFE might seem lazy and obvious at points, but it’s a well done effort. (Even the animated sequences, which are a bit unnecessary and questionable, are executed nicely.)
Adding to the atmosphere is the terrific cinematography by Roman Vasyanov (END OF WATCH), which creates just the mood a story like this needs. It’s the cast, though, that elevates the movie the most. Actors Hirsch and Dorff know just what their characters represent and portray them as the broken people they are. It’s in those two actors (as well as Kristofferson, although his scenes are limited) that THE MOTEL LIFE gets its real soul.
THE MOTEL LIFE BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: 2.39:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. The details in skin, clothing and sets are strong, while colors and tones in certain sequences (those in bars, for example) are tame and organic.
Audio: English 5.1 DTS Master Audio. Subtitles in English. The audio transfer provides an atmosphere appropriate for the story, with a clear soundtrack and a natural-sounding atmosphere in casinos, bars and empty roads.
THE MOTEL LIFE Featurette (3:23): Emile Hirsch and Stephen Dorff discuss the story, Kris Kristofferson, Dakota Fanning, their directors and the animated sequences.