The Million Dollar Hotel is an oddly affecting piece of moody, atmospheric art house cinema. Even with, or perhaps especially because of, a story by U2’s Bono, it is far from the mainstream, but it has its rewards for the patient viewer.
Falling at Your Feet
R for language, some sexual content
At the film’s start, the residents of a seedy hotel in beautiful downtown Los Angeles find themselves in the midst of a murder mystery. Enter Special Agent Skinner (Mel Gibson, Mrs. Soffel), a no-nonsense kind of guy who would rather tear a place apart than ask questions.
Gibson at one point disowned this film, co-produced by his own Icon production company. That’s unfortunate because this is one of his best performances. In a unique role for a star of his stature, Gibson finds himself in territory far from the glory days of Martin Riggs, his character in the Lethal Weapon series. How far away? Well, Skinner was born with an arm growing out his back as a side effect of his parents living near a nuclear plant.
Even though that arm was surgically removed, Skinner, on a certain level, can identify with the hotel’s freakish inhabitants. As his investigation unfolds, other trains of thought roll by and many, perhaps too many, themes are explored.
Part mystery, part love story, part social commentary, part life-affirming drama, the movie has a lot on its mind, but the final product simply doesn’t add up quite as nicely as it probably did on paper.
In the movie’s favor, however, are a sly wit and a terrific cast that manages to make the down-and-out characters sympathetic and interesting. Jeremy Davies (Saving Private Ryan) is pitch perfect as Tom Tom, a self-acknowledged idiot living in the squalid Million Dollar Hotel. He’s fallen madly in love with Eloise (Milla Jovovich, The Fifth Element), a girl for whom he’d do virtually anything. One problem: She thinks she doesn’t really exist.
Underlying the film’s main themes of love and identity are other weighty themes including suicide, art (what it is, how it is marketed), the media (and its manipulation), and the environment. All of this makes the perfect canvas upon which director Wim Wenders (Paris, Texas) can paint his magic.
Typical of Wenders’ other films, The Million Dollar Hotel focuses on character interaction and words – and it is s-l-o-w-l-y paced. As such, it is the quintessential “art house” movie, one that is hard to define and one that has gone through a considerable amount of turmoil in its efforts to reach its audience.
After winning the Silver Bear Award at the 2000 Berlin Film Festival, it was released in Europe to mixed reviews. The movie didn’t make it to theatres in the United States until Lions Gate picked up the rights and lamely rolled the movie out to a few theatres in New York and Los Angeles in February. An April video release was announced at the same time.
Wenders’ track record is amazingly unpredictable, not just in terms of content, but in terms of quality. He hits lofty high points like Wings of Desire, but then turns around with disappointing work like that film’s sequel, Far Away, So Close. The Million Dollar Hotel falls somewhere in between. It has moments of cinematic grandeur, but it flounders a bit too much in its own celebration of oddities.
However, even amidst the film’s challenges, there is something to be said for having taken the journey and having come out the other end with something to think about. Life is full of magic and beauty and sometimes it takes a dark journey to reinforce that message.
A Sort of Homecoming
Even though the DVD does not feature an anamorphic transfer, the widescreen (2.35:1) picture is sharp and artifact free. Thankfully, the 5.1 Dolby Digital sound is also excellent and the soundtrack (which adds tremendously to the mood of the film) comes across to great effect.
The DVD’s standout supplemental attraction is a very enjoyable commentary with Wenders and Bono, who is given the opportunity to demonstrate he knows a lot more than just music.
The other features, unfortunately, are lackluster.
The DVD’s jacket lists “Deleted Scenes” as a special feature, but they’re not there. U2’s music video for The Ground Beneath Her Feet, from the film’s soundtrack, was rumored to be included, but it also never made it to the final disc.
Instead, there are nine minutes of “behind the scenes” footage that is merely a reel of video footage shot behind the scenes. No narration, no commentary; it adds very little to the experience.
There is also a half hour of interviews, but the first half is a bloated collection of each star commenting on the greatness of all the other stars – the kind of coverage best left for vapid TV shows like Entertainment Tonight. However, the last half of the interviews offers some interesting tidbits as Wenders, Bono, and screenwriter Nicholas Klein actually discuss the movie. Their thoughts on the film are interesting and help put it in sharper focus.