Review: The Motel Life



Directed by the Polsky brothers, The Motel Life marks their directorial debut, an adaptation of the Willy Vlautin novel of the same name.

After becoming involved in another’s fatal accident, two brothers, Frank Lee (Emile Hirsch) and Jerry Lee (Stephen Dorff), are forced to run from the law in a bid to save themselves from an imprisoned fate.

The film is gritty, sweaty and moving. It demonstrates an ability to capture a particular devastation which is cloaked in a raw approach. It is suffocating in the sense that wherever the brothers travel, the hit-and-run crime looms over them. But it is sometimes difficult to separate this desolating circumstance with the cat-and-mouse chases that saturate cliché action-adventures. Despite this cliché dominating a total different part of the cinematic sphere, the Polsky brothers do not pursue anything idiosyncratic enough that entirely excuses the film from conventional comparisons.

The setting is particularly interesting. Set in Sierra Nevada, the narrative ranges from derelict frosty scenes in abandoned spacious areas that are reminiscent of Fargo to Frank and Jerry driving through vibrant city streets. There are also hotel rooms, the insides of cars and hospital beds where the physical claustrophobia translates to an emotional smother, leaving the weight of the tragedy heavy on all shoulders.

There are some special scenes, including a shower sequence between the two brothers which enforces the brotherhood and familial love that the film explores, as well as causing striking empathetic reactions, leaving the viewer feeling just as abandoned as Frank and Jerry have been since a young age (shown to us through expository flashbacks). But between these captivating scenes are empty ones which just about survive with their minimal depth.

The film does attempt to do something interesting with the integration of illustrational scenes, but they just appear as protruding scenes that disrupt the film’s narrative. Its concept is great in respect to how it stresses the release fiction provides for the brothers, allowing them to escape their brutal realities that have stripped them bare, but its execution is disjointed and results in the film becoming an incoherent text.

The film is emotive and trials cinematic regurgitations with a gritty and unclean methodology, leaving me wanting to cleanse myself from its dusty visuals. But I wouldn’t dare in fear of ridding some of the compassionate effects the film did manage to achieve on me.

The Motel Life (2012), directed by Alan Polsky and Gabe Polsky, is released in the UK on Netflix, Certificate 15.

Originally published on The National Student.


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Film & English student, Deputy Editor of The Edge and President of FilmSoc. Likes FKA twigs, BANKS and other capitalised artists.

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