Movie review: 'Motel Life' plays on overworked indie themes

Published November 7, 2013 5:23 pm

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"The Motel Life" is one of those earnestly morose independent movies that would have played to grand applause at the Sundance Film Festival in the mid-'90s — but now, in 2013, it feels a little creaky and overworked.

Stephen Dorff and Emile Hirsch play the Flannigan brothers, Jerry Lee and Frank, living a rough life in a Reno hotel, circa 1990. Frank is the responsible one who tends to the unstable Jerry Lee, who is missing a leg after a train mishap when the two were teens. (The movie requires viewers to ignore the 12-year age gap between the actors.)

But when Jerry Lee gets involved in a hit-and-run accident, the brothers hit the road toward Elko, where Frank's ex-girlfriend Annie (Dakota Fanning; again, don't think about the age gap) retreated after their tragic breakup.

Directing brothers Gabe and Alan Polsky bring some intriguing touches to the screenplay (by Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster, adapting Willy Vlautin's novel), including stark animation of the soothing tall tales Frank tells Jerry Lee. The Polskys also draw a tender performance from Hirsch, trying to balance his obligations with his heart's desire.

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'The Motel Life'

Opens Friday, Nov. 8, at the Tower Theatre; rated R for sexual content, language, some nudity, brief violent images, and drug references; 85 minutes.