“…a story that is sufficient with being roughly two sentences long, the end result clicks favorably.”

Frank (Emile Hirsch) and Jerry Lee Flannigan (Stephen Dorff) are two working class brothers who have never gotten a single thing handed to them in life. They’ve had troubled home lives, experienced living off the land for a long period of time, and fear that their deaths will be felt by no one. The brothers have no place to call home and, for now, are staying at a motel in Reno, Las Vegas. When Jerry Lee accidentally hits and kills someone with his vehicle, the two brothers already crumbling lives become even more troubled when they must think of a way they can carry on without this incident spiraling out of control.

The Motel Life
Directed by
Alan Polsky & Gabe Polsky
Emile Hirsch, Stephen Dorff, Kris Kristofferson, Dakota Fanning
Release Date
8 November 2013
Steve’s Grade: B

The Motel Life is a somber, moody piece of work, enjoyable largely because of its performances and cinematography. This is the debut film from Alan and Gabe Polsky, and if this is any inkling, I anticipate a checkered film career by the brothers. Their style combines dreamlike fantasies with the bleak, sometimes brutally honest miseries of life and the film gets by very well on these features.

It also helps when performances by two very charming leads exist too, and Hirsch and Dorff are up to the challenge of giving their morose characters a bit of life. Hirsch has been pretty consistent with his role choice, choosing darker and less optimistic film roles that do nothing for the happier side of a person’s conscious. His performance as Frank, which is cold and often frigid, reminded me of his performance in Killer Joe, as a conflicted soul who hatches a plan to kill his biological mother to inherit her insurance money. It was strange, contemptible performance, and for a young actor like Hirsch to take on roles of this kind of magnitude in a consistent manner is pretty impressive.

Dorff, in addition, does some fine work as a man clearly feeling guilty about his actions but looking at them from the point of view of himself and how this will affect him personally. Such a mentality isn’t the best one, but it’s understandable in the regard of the brothers’ situation. Supporting performances by the likes of Kris Kristofferson and Dakota Fanning are also well worth the ride, as each provide sorrowful but admirable performances during their screentime.

Finally, there’s the title; simple, effective, communicates a certain scuzzy mood, and is clearly ambiguous. To reflects on a life that is one possessed in relation to motels. One that is temporary, always on the move, and never a true home. The more I contemplate it, the more I think that The Motel Life is one of the saddest film titles I’ve heard in many years. Just think about it.

There isn’t much to say about The Motel Life. At a concise eighty-two minutes and with a story that is sufficient with being roughly two sentences long, the end result clicks favorably. I guess my one wish for the brothers Polsky would be to have focused on the brothers in this situation throughout the entire film, rather than flashing back to their childhood and events passed while the two are trying to cope with their current situation. It could’ve given the audience the feeling of being trapped and the feeling of being unable to escape somewhere. Kind of like a motel in its own right.

Review by Steve Pulaski, Lead Film Critic