The Motel Life (2012)

# 14877 IMDb R 

The Motel Life (2012

taglineThey will do anything to find the truth

Director: Alan Polsky, Gabe Polsky (as Gabriel Polsky)

Stars: Emile Hirsch, Dakota Fanning, Kris Kristofferson, Stephen Dorff, Joshua Leonard

Animation, Drama, Mystery, Thriller (1h 25min)


Rated 6.0 after 3,232 votes, 61% postive reviews on 20-Oct-18.

3 wins & 2 nominations


Two brothers who are forced to leave Reno after being involved in a hit-and-run accident. Based on the novel by Willy Vlautin, this moody thriller is a searing and profound examination of brotherhood set in the timeless Sierra Nevadan frontier.


Alan Polsky (director) Gabe Polsky (director) Emile Hirsch Stephen Dorff Doc Divecchio Nancy Youngblut Jenica Bergere

Emile Hirsch (Frank), Stephen Dorff (Jerry Lee), Doc Divecchio (Boss Man), Nancy Youngblut (Mom), Jenica Bergere (Polly Flynn), Dakota Fanning (Annie James), Joshua Leonard (Tommy), Garrett Backstrom (Young Jerry Lee), Kris Kristofferson (Earl Hurley), Noah Harpster (Al Casey), Andrew Lee (Young Frank), Oren Skoog (Barry Hurley), Hayes MacArthur (Officer Cook), Scott MacArthur (Officer Mori), Jim Gray (Boxing Sportscaster), Tango (The Dog), Pat Foley (Boxing Sportscaster #2), Dayton Callie (Uncle Gary (uncredited)), Cristian Cruz (Officer (uncredited)), Shae D'lyn (Claire (uncredited)), James 'Buster' Douglas (Himself (archive footage) (uncredited)), Craig Quigley (Fight Viewer (uncredited)), Michele Ravera (Fight Viewer (uncredited)), Mike Tyson (Himself (archive footage) (uncredited))

From the same director


Micah Fitzerman-Blue (written by), Noah Harpster (written by), Willy Vlautin (novel)

Produced by

Drew Hall (executive producer), Louise Lovegrove (line producer), Alan Polsky (producer), Gabe Polsky (producer (as Gabriel Polsky)), Ann Ruark (producer), Liam Satre-Meloy (co-producer), Adam Shott (co-producer), Mary Vernieu (co-producer)



Movies like this only come around every half century or so. The last time, the name of the movie was "Midnight Cowboy." This time, it's "The Motel Life," which is based on a cult debut novel by Willy Vlautin published in 2006. It's the story of two close-knit brothers, bonded together by the untimely death of their mother when they're in their early teens. Since then, these brothers have been inseparable, living rough on society's fringes due to no fault of their own. When the movie opens, the brothers are living in their hometown of Reno, Nevada in the cheap-motel miasma on the "other" side of town. Although one's a gifted artist and the other is an accomplished storyteller, they live at the bottom of the economic pile with nothing but odd jobs for support.

The two brothers, Frank and Jerry Lee Flannigan, are played by Emile Hirsch and Stephen Dorff respectively with about as much emotional depth and raw credibility as you're likely to ever see portrayed on screen. The supporting cast includes Kris Kristofferson—in a truly moving performance—and Dakota Fanning who also gives a terrific accounting of her character. The inspired animation of Mike Smith adds substantially to the movie as well, cleanly delineating the "real" world from Frank's fantasies.

Like "Midnight Cowboy," this film deals with many dark, adult themes. "Midnight Cowboy" was made in 1969. It was highly controversial back then but it's now listed as #36 on the American Film Institute's Top 100 Greatest Movies of all time. If you're squeamish or prudish about what you see on screen, this might not be your film, but if you can stand to look at a portion of society that you likely don't see often or ever, you will be rewarded by the tremendous performances in this film.

You're going to have to work a bit harder than usual to find this movie when it opens on November 8. It will open in only 20 markets. But it will be worth the quest. We saw it early as part of the ongoing efforts of Tim Sika and the San Jose Camera Cinema Club. After the showing, the audience talked with Stephen Dorff via Skype for 45 minutes. Dorff shared a lot of background that greatly enhanced the experience. Thanks Tim.

Memorable quotes

Earl Hurley: Don't make decisions thinking you're a low life. Make decisions thinking you're a great man. At least a good man. And don't be a goddamn pussy.

3 total 


The cast and crew of The Motel Life lived in a casino during the shoot.

7 total 


3 wins & 2 nominations 
Chicago International Film Festival • Rome Film Fest

Other titles

Живот из мотелите (Bulgaria (Bulgarian title)) • A Vida em Motéis (Brazil) • Zivot u motelu (Croatia) • Napról napra (Hungary) • Motelowe zycie (Poland) • Жизнь в мотеле (Russia) • Yasamin Kiyisi (Turkey (Turkish title))



Rated R for sexual content, language, some nudity, brief violent images, and drug references


Australia:MA15+ / South Korea:18 / United Kingdom:15 / United States:R



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