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

Published November 7, 2013 5:23 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

"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.