Chelsea Walls

on April 19, 2002 by Ed Scheid
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   New York City's Chelsea Hotel is famed as the place where artists from Mark Twain through Arthur Miller and Bob Dylan once lived. While the hotel has become run down, it is still a magnet for young would-be artists who hope to become part of the Chelsea's creative cycle. This film is the feature directorial debut of actor Ethan Hawke, who shot "Chelsea Walls" in digital video. Considering the talent that Hawke attracted to his film, the final result is particularly disappointing.

   Grace (Hawke's wife Uma Thurman) and Audrey (Rosario Dawson, "Josie and the Pussycats") are poets struggling with their writing and with the usual romantic complications. Grace is torn between an artist living in the Chelsea ("The Cell's" Vincent D'Onofrio) and a lover who went Hollywood. Meanwhile, Bud ("Lone Star's" Kris Kristofferson) is an alcoholic writer attempting to finally finish his book while contending with both his girlfriend (Natasha Richardson) and his wife (Tuesday Weld). And two would-be musicians, Terry ("Driven's" Robert Sean Leonard) and Ross ("Happy, Texas'" Steve Zahn), drive in from Minnesota in the hopes of jump-starting their careers.

   Hawke's visual style is gritty and dimly lit, exacerbating the fact that the young residents of the hotel come across as self-indulgent and tiresome, which in turn is an accurate description of "Chelsea Walls" itself. Like a bad improvisation exercise, the superficially written characters ramble on tediously about their lives, loves and the art they're struggling to create. At a level above the rest of the film are the scenes with Kris Kristofferson, who gives his character a world-weary self-awareness--an insight the other hotel residents lack.    Starring Kris Kristofferson, Robert Sean Leonard, Natasha Richardson, Uma Thurman and Steve Zahn. Directed by Ethan Hawke. Written by Nicole Burdette. Produced by Pamela Koffler and Jon Marcus. A Lions Gate release. Drama. Running time: 109 min.

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