Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Wim Wenders
Stars: Jeremy Davies, Milla Jovovich, Mel Gibson, Jimmy Smits, Amanda Plummer, Peter Stromare, Gloria Stuart, Harris Yulin,Tom Bower, Donal Logue, Julian Sands, Bud Cort, Tim Roth.
In recent years German director Wim Wenders has turned his cynical outsider’s eye on Los Angeles, showing us a sleazy and seedy side to the city of dreams that not many people would recognise. Based on a story written by U2 singer Bono and script writer Nicholas Klein, The Million Dollar Hotel continues to develop Wenders’ obsession with contemporary American pop culture, which has dominated his last couple of films (The End Of Violence, etc).
Set largely inside a decrepit downtown LA hotel, ironically known as The Million Dollar Hotel, the film also explores the way in which modern society seems to marginalise people living on the fringe. The film begins after Izzy Goldstein, a resident of the hotel, checks out by throwing himself off the roof. No big deal, as who will miss another junkie?
But when it is learned that the deceased was the son of a Rupert Murdoch like billionaire multi-media baron (Harris Yulin), the FBI is called in to investigate whether foul play was involved. Enter detective Skinner (Mel Gibson), a tough FBI agent, who finds himself bewildered by the lack of co-operation from the oddball residents of the hotel. Every resident is a suspect in the case, but Skinner soon finds events out of his control as the investigation leads into unexpected territory. Events unfold from the perspective of the simple, childlike Tom Tom (Jeremy Davies, from Spanking The Monkey, etc), a quiet, enigmatic loner who possesses a wisdom and insight beyond his naiveté. The Million Dollar Hotel is also something of an unusual love story, as the major subplot teases out the gradually developing platonic relationship between Tom Tom and the enigmatic, haunted, book loving former prostitute Eloise (Milla Jovovich).
Wenders creates a wonderful contrast between the modern glass and concrete skyscrapers of Los Angeles and the almost third world like environment of these down and out residents. He and cinematographer Phedon Papamichael create a suitably grim and unnerving look for the film that adds to its ambience and visually impressive surface gloss. U2 contribute a couple of new songs to the film’s soundtrack, which further enhance the eerie mood.
Gibson delivers another of his laconic performances that seems at odds with much of the insanity and self consciously improvised nature of many of the other performances. Peter Stormare has some fine moments as Dixie, the embittered forgotten Beatle who wonders why his creative input into the Fab Four’s famous songs has been overlooked by history. But Wenders largely wastes the talents of a solid ensemble cast, that includes Jimmy Smits, embarrassingly cast as a mystical Indian; Amanda Plummer as a whore with a heart of steel; Julian Sands as a pretentious art dealer; and Tim Roth in a brief cameo as the unfortunate victim.
Gibson, who put much of his own money into the film through his Icon Productions company, has also been one of the film’s fiercest critics – in a recent press conference he referred to The Million Dollar Hotel as boring. It’s a fairly accurate assessment of this slow paced, and ultimately bewildering film. Part of the problem lies with Wenders himself, who adds a level of pretension to this off beat murder mystery that weighs it down. Wenders is an arty film maker who deals with serious concerns, and is not so much a story teller as a cynical and impersonal observer of the foibles of his misfit characters. Fans of Wenders’ idiosyncratic style may appreciate The Million Dollar Hotel; casual audiences will find it a million dollar flophouse, an oddity that is not worth the admission price.