Night at the Golden Eagle (R) ★★½

Review Date: June 7th, 2002

A couple of down-and-outers whose lives are on the brink of changing for the better meet up on a night that takes a tragic, yet not wholly surprising, turn.


Tommy (Donnie Montemarano) has, yet again, been released from prison. The night he gets out he hooks up with his old buddy and onetime partner in crime, Mic (Vinny Argiro), who wants to go legit. Mic's been working at a seedy adult porn shop to save money for the two of them to get to Vegas and become casino dealers; he even bought two one-way tickets on a Greyhound departing the next morning. Tommy is having none of it--he'd rather pull off a couple more jobs and quadruple what little money Mic's hoarded. The men start the evening off in Mic's little room at the Golden Eagle hotel, a filthy, decrepit flophouse on Los Angeles' skid row whose seemingly permanent tenants include Mr. Maynard, a 1930s tap dancing star (real-life tap dancer Fayard Nicholas), and an old bum named Sylvester (Sam Moore, of '60s soul singing duo Sam & Dave fame). There's also an assortment of whores (''hoo-ers,'' as Tommy calls them), Sally (Ann Magnuson), Amber (Natasha Lyonne) and junior high schooler Ruby (Nicole Jacobs) and their repellent pimp, Rodan (Vinnie Jones). Everyone's paths cross as the hours pass on this sweltering summer night, and the course of events turns as depressing and piteous as the wretched place where they live.


Montemarano (who looks vaguely like a worn-out Gene Hackman) has never acted a day in his life, but you wouldn't believe it the way he comes off as the archetypal small-time con. Could be that's because he is--as an Italian growing up in Brooklyn, he became a capo for the Colombo family and served 10 years in the big house for racketeering. He was cast in this movie thanks to childhood friend and co-star Argiro, who left Brooklyn early on and fell into his own acting career quite by accident. It stands to reason, then, that their chemistry in these roles is pure, true and honest. While they may only be acting, their pasts completely influence their performances. Magnuson overacts the ''hoo-er'' thing (plus, she's a little too classy a broad to be hanging out in skid row even given her age). Lyonne appears all too briefly (luuv her white platforms), but her role is pivotal and she plays it scarily real. Natividad is a revelation--pubescently alluring, she balances the high wire between adult sexual awareness and the childlike innocence she loses forever after the night at the Golden Eagle. Jones strikes just the right gritty note as a malevolent, dispicable pimp. Other supporting characters are well cast, especially the young front desk clerk who provides a scant bit of comic relief. (James Caan, who also has known the lead actors for years, makes a quick cameo as a prison guard.)


If he set out to make the darkest, most depressing, most disquieting movie he could, director Adam Rifkin (Detroit Rock City) accomplished just that. Night at the Golden Eagle comes off more like a play set in one location (with a few exceptions, every scene takes place in or outside the hotel), and this, plus the tight shots of the actors and the hotel rooms, gives the movie a claustrophobic feel. You certainly want to get the hell away from the place (sometimes away from the movie itself), but you can't, and neither can (or will) the unfortunate characters. Rifkin actually filmed the movie in a real skid row crack hotel, which gives it a brownish, aged, dirty realism that Hollywood set directors can't ever seem to re-create. While one can't say this movie is enjoyable, it definitely leaves a mark on the psyche that makes it far more memorable than the typical expendable big studio flick.

Bottom Line

A disturbing, unpleasant look at the seedy underbelly of the city most of us will never see, in a movie you'll want to look away from but can't.