While it might be true that even losers get lucky sometimes, such good fortune tends to be fleeting. That's certainly the case with brothers Frank (Emile Hirsch) and Jerry Lee (Stephen Dorff), whose adolescent foray into rail-riding resulted in the latter losing a leg. Having since grown into full-blown fuckups, they hole up in Reno's squalid motels, where dreams don't so much die as fester. Fittingly, it takes a tragic bit of bad luck—a hit-and-run by Jerry Lee—to flush them from hiding and force them to confront their pasts. Real-life brothers Alan and Gabe Polsky's adaptation of The Motel Life, a novel by Reno-born Portlander Willy Vlautin (who will attend the Nov. 9 screening and plans to hang around for drinks afterward), navigates an appealing range of visual techniques. Frank's lurid fantasies, which a therapist would have a field day parsing, are depicted with debauched zeal by local animator Mike Smith, and one audacious tracking shot clearly shows Martin Scorsese's influence. However, it's the more stripped-down scenes that resonate strongest, including Frank's realization that he's not so much a legendary outlaw as fodder for a sad-ass country song. The Motel Life fulfills its modest ambitions, mining glimmers of muted beauty from these brothers' otherwise bleak existences.
Critic's Grade: B-
The Motel Life is rated R. It opens Friday at the