Chelsea Walls

Actor Ethan Hawke turns to directing, in digital video, in Nicole Burdette’s 2001 adaptation of her own play. This consists of five separate downbeat stories happening on the same day at New York’s artist-friendly Chelsea Hotel. The cast is certainly impressive, and probably reason enough for seeing this; it includes, among others, Kevin Corrigan, Rosario Dawson, Vincent D’Onofrio, Kris Kristofferson, Robert Sean Leonard, Natasha Richardson, Jimmy Scott, Uma Thurman, Mark Webber, Tuesday Weld, Harris Yulin, and Steve Zahn. The main problem is the film’s inability to stay with any one story or character for long: too many ideas compete for attention without any clear through line. Hawke, who gets some very interesting visual effects and sound overlaps, is hardly alone in failing to solve this difficulty; for me, much of Robert Altman’s workreflecting his TV background and the reliance on sound bites that it entailsshows comparable limitations. Many of the smaller moments of both directors are priceless, but the larger picture tends toward either vagueness or banality (such as the American flag at the end of Altman’s Nashville). 109 min. (JR)

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