The Million Dollar Hotel

Germany/USA 1999

Reviewed by Richard Falcon


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

Downtown Los Angeles, 2001. Tom Tom, a childlike young man, jumps to his death from the roof of the Million Dollar Hotel. As he falls, he narrates the events of the previous 14 days, beginning with the death of fellow hotel resident Izzy Goldkiss who plunged from the same spot. Izzy was the son of media-czar Stanley Goldkiss. FBI agent Skinner investigates Izzy's death. Using Tom Tom as his guide, Skinner interviews the hotel's eccentric residents, including Izzy's artist roommate Geronimo, self-proclaimed "Fifth Beatle" Dixie, the drunk Shorty and addict Vivien. Tom Tom speaks to the withdrawn Eloise for the first time. Skinner plants bugs in each of the rooms. The residents hold a meeting where Geronimo resolves to sell off his "tar paintings" as Izzy's work.

Skinner persuades Eloise to go to Tom Tom's room to elicit information. She falls chastely in love with Tom Tom. Skinner arrests Geronimo for Izzy's murder, so Shorty and the others persuade Tom Tom to confess to the murder on television. At the exhibition it emerges Izzy was an art thief: the tar on the canvasses covers paintings from downtown galleries. Tom Tom escapes arrest. He confesses to Eloise he allowed the suicidal Izzy to fall from the roof after Izzy had told him he had raped Eloise to prove "she was nothing". Tom Tom jumps to his death. Afterwards, his spirit observes Skinner and Eloise consoling each other where he hit the ground.


Ever since his 1987 film Wings of Desire, Wim Wenders has repeatedly claimed to be a storyteller rather than an "image-maker". This curious tension (always central to his work) makes its presence felt during the impressive opening of The Million Dollar Hotel. A digitally enhanced helicopter-mounted camera floats us angelically across the LA skyline, allowing us to relish the marriage of the images with the U2 ballad 'The First Time'. This opening is Wenders' calling card, blending a superb rock soundtrack, lovingly observed Americana, a prodigious visual sense and an openness to the tools of the digital age. But as Tom Tom, Wenders' latest holy innocent protagonist, leaps over the hotel's parapet and Wenders catches him up in the film's death-defying embrace (like Otto Sander's angel catching the falling child in Faraway, So Close), the film crashes to earth without protective armour.

This is a long-cherished project of Wenders', which has gone through many revisions (at one point it was going to be a science-fiction film, presumably along the lines of Wenders' Until the End of the World). U2's Bono conceived of a film based around the hotel on whose roof the band shot the video for 'Where the Streets Have No Name'. In the end, it's business as usual for Wenders' remaining fans, bridging moments of film-making brilliance with passages of dismaying banality and misjudged humour. You would think scriptwriter Nicholas Klein (Wenders' collaborator on The End of Violence) had just rediscovered R. D. Laing, since the 'oddball' characters populating the hotel all owe their adopted identities to their creative response to an insane world. "If enough people believe in the same thing, that's reality... the reality game," says "Fifth Beatle" Dixie. It's a view echoed by the media-czar Goldkiss, who tells FBI agent Skinner, "Truth is whatever most people want to buy - this is Hollywood, an ounce of shit and they make a shit soufflé."

Jimmy Smits, as a Mexican pretending to be Native American, and Bud Cort, underused but still a treat as a drunken opportunist in a loose toupee, do their considerable best with roles driven more by abstractions than a concern with character (a perennial Wenders problem). Each brings memories of 70s films: Cort of his role in Harold and Maude (1971), while Geronimo invokes Will Sampson in One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975). The concern with abstraction continues when Tom Tom begins courting the wan and ethereal Eloise who tells him she is a "fictional character". All this protests its own postmodernism too much, especially when none of the major characters is developed enough to sustain even simple empathy. Jeremy Davies and Milla Jovovich grate in their roles, and there's a deliberate uncertainty about whether we're meant to take her complete regression and his near autism as willed behaviour or their natural state. Both possibilities, of course, aggravate in different ways.

Tom Tom's ambivalent hero-worship of special agent Skinner ("You could see he was special, even before he told you," he says) does, however, provide some effective comic moments, notably a fast-motion sequence in which Tom Tom pogos around the room to a Spanish cover version of 'Anarchy in the UK'. In turn, Mel Gibson is remarkable as Skinner, both the pre-Oedipal Tom Tom's surrogate father figure and, in his status as an "ex-Freak", a possible comic allegory for a corseted, restricted but brutally efficient mainstream Hollywood.

But if The Million Dollar Hotel means anything for Wenders' oeuvre - and despite the heavily signalled presence of the director's well-established themes the movie doesn't necessarily have to lend itself to auteurist readings - it suggests his attempt to rebrand himself as a 'US independent' film-maker, perhaps the "father of the US independents" as he described himself to a German interviewer. This film proves a 'Wenders' movie' still has the power to astonish, but compared with such recent indie-spirited hits as American Beauty and Being John Malkovich it works far too hard for its quirkiness.


Deepak Nayar
Nicholas Klein
Bruce Davey
Wim Wenders
Nicholas Klein
Nicholas Klein
Director of Photography
Phedon Papamichael
Tatiana S. Riegel
Production Designers
Robert D. Freed
Arabella A. Serrell
Jon Hassell
Daniel Lanois
Brian Eno
©Road Movies Filmproduktion GmbH, Berlin
Production Companies
Icon Entertainment International presents a Road Movies production in association with Icon Productions and Kintop
Executive Producer
Ulrich Felsberg
Production Supervisor
Sabrina S. Sutherland
Production Co-ordinator
Jennifer Scott
Unit Production Manager
Deepak Nayar
Location Manager
Jeremy Alter
Post-production Supervisor
James K. Jensen
Assistant Directors
Christine Larson
Laura Nisbet
Andrew Ward
Script Supervisor
Sylvie Michel-Casey
Heidi Levitt
Monika Mikkelsen
Leah Buono
Camera Operators
Kirk R. Gardner
Wally Pfister
Steadicam Operator
Kirk R. Gardner
Digital Effects
Das Werk
Digital Effects Supervisor:
Thomas Tannenberger
Digital Effects Manager:
Andreas Schellenberg
Digital Artists:
Nastuh Abootalebi
Niko Papoutsis
Dominik Trimborn
Oliver Stück
Bernd Schulze
Moritz Peters
Martin Krefft
Wire Removal:
Walter Hörger
Special Effects Co-ordinator
Gary P. D'Amico
Special Effects Foreman
Philip D. Bartko
Special Effects
David Domeyer
Kristine Onesky
George Vrattos
Set Designer
Will Batts
Original Artworks
Julian Schnabel
Alejandro Garmendia
Storyboard Artist
John Coven
Costume Designer
Nancy Steiner
Costume Supervisor
Marina Marit
Key Make-up Artist
Debbie Zoller
Make-up Artists
Rene Dashiell
Amanda Carroll
Body Brace Designer
François Hacquard
Key Hairstylist
D.J. Plumb
Annette E. Fabrizi
Cheri Ruff
Title Design
Melissa Elliott
Title House
The Million Dollar Hotel Band
Guitars/Vocals/Pedal Steel:
Daniel Lanois
John Hassell
Brian Eno
Greg Cohen
Brian Blade
Adam Dorn
Bill Frisell
Brad Meildau
Music Supervisor
Sharon Boyle
Music Co-ordinator
Jason Alexander
Studio Tech
Rab McAllister
Guitar Tech
Fraser McAlister
Drum Tech
Sam O'Sullivan
Music Producer
Hal Willner
Music Editor
Eric Liljestrand
Recording/Mixing Engineer
Eric Liljestrand
Sound Recording Engineer
Richard Rainey
"The First Time", "Stateless" by/performed by U2; "Nyack Oud Dance" by Hal Willner, Adam Dorn, Martin Brumbach, performed by Hal Willner; "Dancin' Shoes" by Daniel Lanois, Bono, Nicholas Klein, performed by Bono, Daniel Lanois; "Ground beneath Her Feet" by U2, Salman Rushdie, performed by U2 with guest Daniel Lanois on pedal; "I Am the Walrus", "A Day in the Life", "Eleanor Rigby", "Hard Day's Night" by John Lennon, Paul McCartney; "Satellite of Love" by Lou Reed, performed by Bono and the MDH Band; "Anarchy in the U.S.A. (Retitled from "Anarchy in the U.K.")" by Stephen Jones, Johnny Rotten, Paul Thomas Cook, Glen Matlock, Tito Larriva, performed by Tito Larriva and the MDH Band, additional musicians: Larry Mullen (drums), Adam Clayton (bass), Chris Spedding (guitar); "Falling at Your Feet" by/performed by Bono, Daniel Lanois; "Amsterdam Blue (Cortege)" by Jon Hassell, performed by Jon Hassell, Gregg Arreguin, Jamie Muhoberac, Peter Freeman; "Never Let Me Go" by Bono, John Hassell, Daniel Lanois, Brian Eno, Nicholas Klein, performed by Bono and the MDH Band
Sound Design/Supervision
Elmo Weber
Sound Mixer
Lee Orloff
Re-recording Mixers
Jeffrey Perkins
Dennis Patterson
Sound Editors
Ai-Ling Lee
Orada Jusatayanond
Klaus Peintner
Stuart Nelson
David Peifer
Gary Gerlich
Dialogue Supervisor
Russell Farmaco
Russell Farmaco
Monique Reymond
Klaus Peintner
Stunt Co-ordinator
Bobby Brown
Film Extract
Enter the Dragon (1973)
Milla Jovovich
Jeremy Davies
Tom Tom
Mel Gibson
Detective Skinner
Jimmy Smits
Peter Stormare
Amanda Plummer
Gloria Stuart
Tom Bower
Donal Logue
Charley Best
Bud Cort
Julian Sands
Terence Scopey
Conrad Roberts
Harris Yulin
Stanley Goldkiss
Charlayne Woodard
Jean Swift
Ellen Cleghorne
Richard Edson
Tito Larriva
Jon Hassell
Justin Lafoe
Marlene's son
Ezra Buzzington
David Stifel
screamer for Jesus
Winston J. Rocha
Frederique Van Der Wal
diamond woman
Roger Stoneburner
Erik Rondell
Tim Roth
Izzy Goldkiss
Icon Film Distribution
10,962 feet
121 minutes 48 seconds
Dolby digital/SDDS
In Colour
Anamorphic [Panavision]
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011