US / 97 minutes / bw / Shangri-La, FotoKem, Gato Negro Dir & Scr: Sebastian Gutierrez Pr: Steve Bing, Sebastian Gutierrez, Zach Schwartz Cine: Cale Finot Cast: Malin Akerman, Kevin Connolly, Rosario Dawson, Danny DeVito, Robert Forster, Carla Gugino, Mandy Moore, Rufus Sewell, Aaron Behr, John Colella, Andrew Fiscella, Michael B. Jordan, Cameron Richardson, Maureen Chapman, Derek Schreck.
A beautifully modulated nest of stories which prove, in the usual neonoirish fashion, all to be in fact interconnected—all but one, which is the opening scene. Yet, while this movie can be seen as sitting right at the heart of the neonoir canon, at the same time it’s quite atypical of that canon: there’s very little violence and not much chasing around—very little straightforward, easy suspense, in other words—with much of the enjoyment coming instead from a screenplay that’s full of dialogue and that revels in language and its own use of it. At one point two of the characters seem to display awareness of this:
Felix: I’ve never met anyone with said proclivity before.
Hanna: I’ve never met a detective who said “proclivity” before.
We’re introduced to the movie by Eugene Portland (DeVito), whose trade is installing new shower doors. He explains that, while it might seem the kind of job that would have him being propositioned by dozens of bored housewives, in fact it’s happened on just two occasions, one of which he prefers not to talk about. The other was with neglected housewife Evangeline Lundy (Moore), and we see his flashback of his own principled behavior as, clad in her scanties, she alternately threw herself at him and wept on his shoulder. It’s an entertaining sequence but seems to have little to do with the movie proper.
Eugene (Danny DeVito) remains staunchly high-principled despite the obvious inclinations of housewife Evangeline (Mandy Moore).
Eugene is now in a room in a nameless and seemingly scarcely occupied hotel. The trigger to the nest of stories is when, as Eugene stumblingly types in his hotel room, a caller arrives dressed in the costume of a masked superhero; dyslexic, she’s come to the wrong room. Before leaving she introduces herself as Sevilla (Dawson), who, as we shortly discover, is one of the hotel’s housemaids. She was given the costume by . . .
But we must reel back. For reasons unexplained, Eugene knows the story of a police detective called Felix (Sewell), who betrayed his principles and his team’s years-long attempt to trap the gangster Otto (Fiscella) through falling in love with Otto’s danceuse mistress Swedish Mary (Akerman). Felix hoped to run away with Mary but she never showed up at the train station for their planned rendezvous. As we much later discover, after Otto had his thugs beat Felix to a pulp, Mary became Felix’s lover; she was also his informant about a new heist being planned by Otto’s gang, a heist that Felix subverts, lifting the money out from under the gang’s noses—a venture that ends bloodily.
Much of this we learn in flashback as Felix explains himself to chanteuse Hanna Click (Gugino), who has been booked for three nights at the hotel but quits when her waste-of-space boyfriend Vance (Connolly) creates a scene about Felix supposedly entertaining lascivious thoughts as he watches her sing. Hanna has been trying to dump Vance forever, it appears, and this seems her final straw. She arrives at Felix’s room with a filled hipflask and a tacit offer; instead, they tell their life-tales, not least Hanna’s romantic history not just with men but with a lady tennis player, Maureen Chapman (Richardson), whose club-owning husband inflicted a bizarre punishment for this infidelity . . .
Felix gets very drunk; Vance decks him and steals the money, which he uses to pay off some gambling debts; Hanna follows Vance and recovers most of the money. Felix wakes and discovers that his straight-arrow cop partner Jim Logan (Forster) has located him and knows the dreadful truth. Jim also tells Felix—and us—that Swedish Mary didn’t deliberately jilt Felix at the train station: she’d been arrested, not for nefarious activity but for defending herself when Otto attacked her. Unfortunately for Felix, Jim isn’t nearly as much of a straight arrow as he’s always seemed: Jim wants the money, and he doesn’t mind if he has to kill Felix to get it.
Felix’s partner Jim (Robert Forster) proves to be not nearly as straight-arrow as Felix thought.
Meanwhile (this is a movie full of meanwhiles) we’ve discovered that Eugene was long ago married to Hanna—she was 16 at the time, and the whole thing was a big mistake. Thanks to the intervention of Sevilla, who declares herself ready to love him, Eugene, who’d planned to kill himself over his unrequited continuing love for Hanna, is prepared to think again: the fact that Sevilla looks like Rosario Dawson makes his reaction perfectly understandable.
In a moment visually reminiscent of the finale of Roman Polanski’s The Ghost (2010; vt The Ghost Writer), a hit-and-run ties off one plot strand.
All of these stories are wonderfully infolded upon each other in the final moments when Jim, exiting the hotel with the briefcase full of stolen cash in his hand, tells us in voiceover that “Most people live their lives thinking they’re the protagonists of their story when they’re simply a supporting player in somebody else’s . . .” He never gets to finish his sentence, because at that moment we discover Jim, for all his braggadocio, is—like everyone else in the movie—the supporting act for someone else‘s story.
Throughout, the references to classic noir—not to specific noirs but to the genre—are legion. I lost count of the great one-liners, one-liners that are in their articulacy more Ed McBain than James M. Cain: “The only good thing about this moment is I’m sure that, as long as I live, I’ll never feel this lonely again,” says Swedish Mary at one stage.
Hotel Noir was released directly to the internet as a downloadable/streaming file. It’s hard to know why, with this cast, it failed to find a theatrical release. The cinematography is stunning—this is a movie where the term “sumptuous black and white” has real meaning—and the screenplay is a work of wonder. Sewell engages us entirely as an American cop who just happens to have a weary English accent. Dawson brings her usual magic. Gugino superbly recreates the classic-noir chanteuse. DeVito gives a perhaps career-defining performance. One could go all the way down the cast list . . .
Hotel Noir isn’t available on Amazon. You can find instructions for a cable-on-demand viewing on the movie’s website. Also, it’s available on Netflix. I have no idea why it wasn’t given a theatrical release.