The Motel Life (2013) - Rotten Tomatoes

The Motel Life (2013)



Critic Consensus: The Motel Life transcends its frustratingly uneven screenplay with some outstanding work from a talented cast.

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Movie Info

Based on the popular novel by Willy Vlautin, THE MOTEL LIFE is a searing and profound examination of brotherhood set in the timeless Sierra Nevadan frontier. Frank (Emile Hirsch) and Jerry Lee Flannigan (Stephen Dorff) work odd jobs, drink hard, and drift from motel to motel. Their only escape is through Frank's fantastic stories and Jerry Lee's rich illustrations. Everything changes when Jerry Lee is involved in a hit-and-run accident, which forces the brothers across the state to the home of Frank's old flame, Annie (Dakota Fanning). While the two seem safe from the law, Jerry Lee's insatiability and all-consuming guilt render their future increasingly uncertain. Like an outlaw country song, this directorial debut from real-life brothers Gabe & Alan Polsky finds beauty and hope in a world of casinos, gun shops, dive bars, and in the simple people who inhabit them. The film features animation by Mike Smith. (c) Official Sitemore
Rating: R (for seual content, language, some nudity, brief violent images, and drug references)
Genre: Mystery & Suspense, Drama
Directed By: ,
Written By: Noah Harpster, Micah Fitzerman-Blue
In Theaters:
On DVD: Jun 3, 2014
Polsky Films - Official Site


Stephen Dorff
as Jerry Lee
Dakota Fanning
as Annie James
Kris Kristofferson
as Earl Hurley
Jenica Bergere
as Polly Flynn
Garrett Backstrom
as Young Jerry Lee
Andrew Lee
as Young Frank
Doc Divecchio
as Boss Man
Noah Harpster
as Al Casey
Oren Skoog
as Barry Hurley
Hayes MacArthur
as Officer Cook
Scott K. MacArthur
as Officer Mori
Jim Gray
as Boxing Sportscaster
Show More Cast

News & Interviews for The Motel Life

Critic Reviews for The Motel Life

All Critics (38) | Top Critics (14)

Sensitive lensing and acting render an unusual story of brotherly love touching in a promising first film.

Full Review… | November 15, 2013
Hollywood Reporter
Top Critic

Alan Polsky and Gabriel Polsky propel the material in a way that can feel over-determined. But they grasp the eccentricities and desperation of fringe dwellers, and at its strongest their atmospheric film has the pull of a sad outlaw song.

Full Review… | November 13, 2013
Los Angeles Times
Top Critic

We have seen many films about losers on the run, but in the directorial debut of former Chicago siblings Alan and Gabe Polsky, we get an intriguing new take on brotherly love not only gone wrong, but clearly hopeless from the beginning.

Full Review… | November 8, 2013
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic

This independent drama effectively captures the spirit of much contemporary fiction: the tone is at once precious and stark, and the narrative drifts from one episode to another (and from realism to fantasy) as though it were playing out in a dream.

Full Review… | November 8, 2013
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

As good as "The Motel Life" is for the actors, that's how bad it is for the viewer.

Full Review… | November 8, 2013
San Francisco Chronicle
Top Critic

It's occasionally pretentious but ultimately moving, at least for the miniscule audience that will turn out to see such a downer of a movie.

Full Review… | November 8, 2013
Arizona Republic
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for The Motel Life

Wow... what an unusual mystery thriller drama this was! I am not sure if I am going to remember it because of the acting of Emile Hirsch, Stephen Dorff, Dakota Fanning, and Kris Kristofferson or the debutant director brothers Alan and Gabriel Polsky, and their unorthodox approach to a story which was doomed and gloomed from the first second of the movie, but kept going and taking us along to an amazing experience which could turn sour for some viewers with less patience! The screenplay was masterfully adapted by Noah Harpster and Micah Fitzerman-Blue from Willy Vlautin's novel of the same name. The film was shot in Reno and Virginia City and also features excellently animated sequences drawn by Mike Smith.

The odd heroes of this movie, Frank and Jerry Lee Flannigan work odd jobs, drink hard, and drift from motel to motel... As orphans they found an escape in Frank's fantastic stories and Jerry Lee's rich illustrations, which kept them going the next step forward... and forward... and forward. But, everything changes when Jerry Lee is involved in a hit-and-run accident! The brothers decide to run from the law, across the state to the home of Frank's old flame, Annie James. Sadly, while the two seem safe from the law, Jerry Lee's insatiability and all-consuming guilt render their future increasingly uncertain.

Real-life brothers Gabe & Alan Polsky show us their narrative ability and directorial skills to find beauty and hope in a world of casinos, gun shops, dive bars, and in the simple people who inhabit them, people on the margin of the society - so often ignored as invisible and insignificant! And all that was shot by the cinematographer Roman Vasyanov - this was his first American feature film... using 35mm film, he was lauded by critics for his "gorgeous snow-flecked cinematography." Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal stated, "It's admirable and even memorable, in its moody fashion, thanks to Roman Vasyanov's richly textured cinematography-he's a shooter to keep our eyes on." Indeed! A team which needs recognition - go and check it out yourself what I am talking about! It's well worth it.

Panta Oz

Super Reviewer


Giving it one and a half stars for the acting and the setting. The Story-line was dull and dragged on, and was pretty boring. Franks "Fantastic Stories" were awful to listen to and painful to have to watch because a lot of the time it was nonsensical and also painfully boring like the actual story. I presume in book format its a lot better but as a movie this movie didn't work at all, not worth watching in my opinion. Disappointing could of been so much better.

Life has not been kind to the brothers Flannigan, Jerry Lee (Stephen Dorff) and younger brother Frank (Emile Hirsch). Dorff and Hirsch, of course, are flat out terrific, completely engaging and nailing their roles. These orphans saw their mother taken by cancer and their only memory of their absent father is a gold-plated rifle he left behind. Frank is a recovering alcoholic while Jerry Lee suffered the loss of a leg while hopping trains. Their life consists of sleeping around in seedy motels. Yet Frank still manages to create incredible stories that sees the brothers great heroes while Jerry Lee makes drawings that are astonishing.

Fittingly, debuting directors Alan and Gabriel Polsky, themselves brothers, chose Willy Vlautin's 2006 novel for their first feature. It's a most excellent debut, finding all the richness in the bonds and travails of these two brothers. Working from a script by Noah Harpster and Micah Fitzerman-Blue, the Polskys manage to mine the secret places and grieving hearts that Hollywood typically shies away from. And it's all to the good. Sure, all the drawings and flashbacks don't always add up to cohesive whole, but the driving emotions do hit, and they hit hard. The toughness of everyday life forces the brothers to bolt from their lives in Reno, Nevada where Frank is employed by a car dealer (Kris Kristofferson, in one of his best performances), while Jerry Lee becomes involved in a hit-and-run. So the boys must now run from the law where they stop in Elko, Nevada and Frank reconnects with his estranged girlfriend Annie James (a wonderful Dakota Fanning). Hirsch hasn't been this amazing onscreen since his striking turn in 2007's Into The Wild, and Dorff, in a performance on par with his amazing work in Sophia Coppola's Somewhere digs deep to get into the pain and nuance in Jerry Lee. One scene has Frank helping his brother shower, and its an emotionally devastating and wickedly funny scene. The Polskys skillfully etch a portrait of hard lives lived on the margins of society, of damaged people finding redemption through art. In a movie world starved for real truth and ambition, The Motel Life strikes a chord.

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