Friday February 2, 2001
Atop the annex--also called the Rosslyn but renamed the Frontier some years ago--a gigantic sign (lit by incandescent bulbs and recently restored in neon) includes the proclamation, "The Million Dollar Hotel."
Director Wim Wenders took that proud declaration as the title of this romantic fable, which he filmed there with a large, star-studded ensemble cast. This dreamy reverie of a film, with its rapturously beautiful images shot by Phedeon Papamichael and its shimmering, seductive music composed by Jon Hassell, Bono, Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno, recalls Wenders' "Wings of Desire" and its sequel "Far Away, So Close," but it is more demanding.
Indeed, it's likely to elicit a love-it-or-hate-it response from most viewers, and this explains why a movie with Mel Gibson, excellent in one of his most complex roles, has sat on the shelf for more than a year. Of Nicholas Klein's script, based on an idea from Bono, Gibson has said aptly: "It is lyrical and heart-rending on the one hand, but on the other, it is very bizarre and darkly comic."
If you're a Wenders admirer and can give yourself over to his gorgeous verging-on-surreal vision, you can come away deeply moved. A punkish-looking, goofy-seeming but actually acutely sensitive young man, nicknamed Tom Tom (Jeremy Davies), discovers that finding "something to live for also means something to die for."
Tom Tom has found a home at the Million Dollar among other marginalized people, taking delight in making himself useful to the hotel's permanent guests, whose eccentricities tend to cross the line into mental derangement in varying degrees and forms.
Tom Tom and his friends have established an existence that is viable, yet not surprisingly, fragile. Tom Tom had become best friends with a junkie artist, Izzy Goldkiss (Tim Roth), who either fell, jumped or was pushed off the hotel roof to his death.
As it turns out, Izzy was the dropout son of a media tycoon (Harris Yulin) who hires Skinner (Gibson), a veteran FBI agent, to get to the bottom of his son's death. Suddenly, the hotel becomes the center of a media circus, culminating in a splashy exhibition of Izzy's work at the hotel promoted by a prestigious art dealer (Julian Sands). He's a self-proclaimed arbiter of what is art and what is garbage--Izzy's work, he declares, is "important garbage."
(Amusingly, Izzy's work turns out to be Julian Schnabel collages of objects drenched by Izzy in tar--Schnabel, director of "Before Night Falls," made the tar-works especially for the film.)
Skinner, who has a neck brace that gives him a touch of the Terminator, comes on as your standard macho, crew-cut, by-the-book, law-enforcement officer, but we gradually learn he has an even more bizarre history than any of the disturbed denizens of the Million Dollar than we could possibly imagine. He ultimately finds he cannot deny his identification with them, but before compassion sets in, he commits, in attempting to solve the case, an act of betrayal that will have drastic consequences.
Meanwhile, Tom Tom has become transfixed with the sullen, withdrawn beauty Eloise (Milla Jovovich), who has apparently been a hooker and who shares a suite with her dotty but pretty and vivacious grandmother (Gloria Stuart), the building's blithest spirit. Ever so gradually Tom Tom manages to connect with the lost Eloise.
The scenes with Tom, as he eventually wants to be known, and Eloise are piercingly tender and often take place by one of the hotel's large windows with their striking views of the city. These are moments of great beauty and emotion, and are the film's strongest. The weakest occur when Wenders gathers his ensemble cast; such gatherings of the disturbed and the weird verge on the overly theatrical.
This is not, however, to take away from the cast itself, which includes Jimmy Smits as Izzy's ex-mental-patient roommate, a key suspect in Izzy's death; Peter Stormare, a scene stealer as the "forgotten" Beatle who wrote all those hits; Donal Logue as a no-nonsense L.A. cop assigned to help Skinner; and Bud Cort as a seriously faded ex-Hollywood agent.
The hotel is itself always a strongly atmospheric presence, which will be especially appreciated by those of us who have cherished the Rosslyns since the days of their respectability, which extended into the '60s despite a location bordering on Skid Row.
The film pays homage to the hotel's faded grandeur, especially to its enduringly handsome exterior with dark red brick walls set off by handsome window frames and an ornate cornice in cream terra-cotta tile. "The Million Dollar Hotel" is a fantasy, a fairy tale, but its characters and the emotions they elicit become painfully real.
The Million Dollar Hotel, 2001. R, for language and some sexual content. A Lions Gate Films release of an Icon Entertainment Intl. presentation of a Road Movies production in association with Icon Productions and Kintop Pictures. Director/co-producer Wim Wenders. Producers Bruce Davey, Deepak Nayar. Executive producer Ulrich Felsberg. Screenwriter/co-producer Nicholas Klein. Co-story creator/co-producer Bono. Cinematographer Phedeon Papamichael. Editor Tatiana S. Riegel. Music Jon Hassell, Bono, Daniel Lanois, Brian Eno. Costumes Nancy Steiner. Production designers Robert D. Freed. Art director Arabella A. Serrell. Running time: 2 hours, 2 minutes. Jeremy Davies as Tom Tom. Milla Jovovich as Eloise. Mel Gibson as Skinner. Jimmy Smits as Geronimo.