much has been made about the fact that mel gibson’s beaver flopped as if it were some kind of sign that the beaver has any meaning in terms of gibson’s career. the beaver is a small indie film that happens to star mel gibson and directed by jodie foster. personally i don’t think it actually represents anything. mel gibson has always had small scale flops in between blockbusters. no one seems to remember tequila sunrise, air america, the man without a face, or the singing detective. the million dollar hotel came out at a time where movie stars earned creds for doing bit parts in indie films. like most things, it probably started with bruce willis, who took a smaller role in pulp fiction.
produced by gibson’s company, directed by wim wenders, and based on a story by bono, the million dollar hotel begins with the death of one of its tenants, izzy, played by tim roth. mel gibson stars as the agent hired by izzy’s father to investigate izzy’s death. it’s a hotel filled with quirky and mentally unstable characters that includes tom tom, played by jeremy davies(spanking the monkey, saving private ryan). tom tom is in love with the prostitute eloise, played by milla jovovich.
bono came up with the story while filmming the video for where the streets have no name on top of the hotel roof. like most bono speeches or latter wim wenders movies, the million dollar hotel makes grand statements and implies majestic themes that eventually doesn’t get anywhere.
since it’s a wim wenders film, knowledgeable viewers can safely assume that it’s not going the murder mystery/whodunit route, even though mel gibson is the biggest name in the cast. and since the movie shows us the climax in the beginning(set to u2’s the first time from zooropa) and told in flashback, we are never convinced that izzy was murdered. what’s frustrating though, is that there are plenty of elements in the movie that could have worked into a good movie. in a way, it makes one wishes that instead of wim wenders’ grand direction, a more conventional director could have molded it into a good movie. other than the murder mystery element, there’s the love story. there’s the plot thread of the tenants trying to strike it rich with the jimmy smit’s character’s art, which they claimed were done by izzy(there’s the obligatory beatles reference since it’s based on the bono story). there’s the gibson character who’s physically damaged, who wears a neck brace throughout the movie, whom the movie hinted at that he’s as crazy as the tenants. there’s the cop who doesn’t play by the rule angle, which retrospectively works in the post-9/11 patriot act era.
though it doesn’t amount to much in the end, there are quite a few things i like in the million dollar hotel(it was originally called the billion dollar hotel, recession i guess). the opening sequence is beautiful filmed in that it would have made a great music video. jeremy davies is great as the mentally unbalanced tom tom. it’s also nice to see milla jovovich as a character other than an action heroine. though she’s pretty much doing a variation of her fifth element character. the hotel itself is shot in such a way that it doesn’t look so much like a cheap hotel in a hollywood movie than a cheap hotel itself. i don’t know if it’s intentional or not but i got a kick out of julian sands, in bono sunglasses, as an art dealer talking pretentiously about art. retrospectively, i laughed during the scene when mel gibson’s character perks up after being told that izzy(short for israel) is the son of his employer, a jewish media mogul named stanley goldkiss.
and of course, the soundtrack is the best thing in the movie(there’s a u2 cameo). it is telling that the soundtrack and the rest of the world got to see the movie in 2000 while the film’s north american release date was delayed until a year later.
but what’s most depressing is that the movie itself doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. there are traces of wender’s earlier, better movies(or movies i am fond of that most people hate). the fall reminds of wings of desire. the u2 soundtrack reminds of until the end of the world and faraway, so close.
the surveillance aspect reminds of the end of violence. there’s even the edward hopper reference, i think, as in the end of violence. there’s a serious anti-establishment/the insane asylum takes over the day theme that u2 is fond of(which is a similar problem to a band as big as u2 satiring major corporation or big budget hollywood telling us that capitalism is bad a la fight club).
the million dollar hotel lacks the interesting characters, poetry, and philosophical aspects that made wender’s films great or at least, interesting. i wouldn’t say i was bored exactly, but it’s nevertheless a frustrating experience that if you love wings of desire and paris, texas, and found something to like in faraway so close, until the end of the world, or the end of violence, you might want to check this out. for curious wenders fans only.