Night at the Golden Eagle



USA 2001
director/script : Adam Rifkin
full credits not yet available
lead actors : Donnie Montemarano, Vinny Argiro, Natasha Lyonne, Vinnie Jones
110 minutes (approx)

It was late. Past eleven. I’d been out for drinks in Covent Garden with Jack Seale of The Horse since before 8: the Lamb & Flag, then to The Globe for last orders, still recognisable from 30 years ago when Hitchcock used it in Frenzy. At 11.15 I headed off towards Charing Cross station for my 11.32 train back to Ladywell, where I was staying … only to pause and consider my options. Turn left for the safety of Charing Cross, or turn right, and head up to Leicester Square for the 11.30 premiere of Night at the Golden Eagle. I’d booked a press ticket a few days before, just in case, intrigued by the evocative title Adrian Wootton’s synopsis in the LFF brochure:

Tommy (Montemarano) is an ageing career criminal, released from prison after a seven-year stretch, to be reunited with his old heist buddy, Mick (Argiro). Mick takes Tommy to his room in the crumbling splendour of the Golden Eagle hotel in a downbeat area of Los Angeles. The hotel’s inhabitants are a bizarre mixture of elderly bums, prostitutes and pimps. Mick, however, has a plan for he and his pal to escape this mess, go straight and make a new life working in Las Vegas. Tommy is not so sure about the plan and seems intent in landing right back in prison again. When Tommy disastrously tangles with a prostitute (Lyonne), whose pimp is a savage thug (Britain’s own Jones), it seems as if the old boys’ exit strategy may be nothing more than a pipe-dream. With a screenplay directly inspired by the real-life experiences of the two leading actors, Adam Rifkin’s film is a hard-hitting, occasionally disturbing look at the sleaze of Los Angeles. A truly independent and very edgy low-budget film, Night at the Golden Eagle also has some fascinating cameo performances, including an appearance by soul legend Sam Moore (of Sam & Dave fame).

This was all I knew. But it was enough – this was my last night at the festival, I woozily reasoned, before I had to head home to Sunderland. What the hell, I turned right … Ten minutes later, I was in my front row seat listening to Vinnie Jones working the midnight-movie audience like the pro he’s suddenly become,
recounting how he’d been preparing for Gone In 60 Seconds when the Golden Eagle mob rang and asked if he’d consider turning up in LA two weeks early, even though there’d be no Jerry Bruckheimer comfort involved – extras would be hired from the local street-bum population: ” ‘ey paid ’em wiv do’nuts” … then, lights out.

From the start, it was clear that director Rifkin was aiming for a rough-edged, sleazy kind of look, all scuzzy heightened colour and strong contrasts, as if the celluloid has been dipped in a vat of mulched-up tobacco. This gives the picture a bit of character, but it’s the sort of thing we’ve seen in a thousand ‘atmospheric’ beer adverts and rock videos. Allied to the hand-me-down crooks-n-whores plot, there’s a distinct whiff of the pseudo- indie about the whole enterprise, yet another entry in the half-forgotten ‘Tarantino ripoff’ genre.

The performances are, however, pretty strong, with Lyonne bringing a convincing physicality to her underwritten ‘hooker’ role. Jones’s physicality is of a rather different nature, but he’s OK – amusingly, his character’s name is pronounced the same way as the French sculptor ‘Rodin’, but the end credits reveal it’s actually spelled ‘Rodan’, presumably a nod to the Toho movies monster character, a one-time foe of Godzilla and a dead ringer for the ‘Golden Eagle’ figurehead above the hotel door. If this is all intentional (and it might not be) it’s a rare light touch in a movie which otherwise prefers to shove our faces into the crude, sordid, squalid aspects of LA life: in the defining moment, Rodan snorts a line of coke off a hooker’s exposed breast.

There are, of course, plenty of hotels like this in LA – especially near the neglected downtown area – and the fictional Golden Eagle is an atmospheric enough creation (complete with ‘No mastarbating’ sign near the check-in window). But these incidental pleasures can’t compensate for the undeveloped script, which too often consists of the old crooks bickering with each other, interspersed with some trite stuff about how hard life is for naïve young prostitutes. Perhaps the late hour (and the long Covent Garden evening) were to blame, but I just couldn’t maintain my interest and even nodded off at one stage. Perhaps, in the interest of reviewing fairness, I should seek out the movie and watch it stone cold sober, at a more reasonable time of the day. Well perhaps – if it turns up on TV one night, I might give it another try. And if I do, I’ll update this review and tell you all about it.

20th November, 2001
(seen Nov-17-01, Odeon West End – London Film Festival)
with thanks and apologies to Adrian Wootton

by Neil Young
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