Night at the Golden Eagle is an uncompromisingly dark drama about one night in the life of a series of low-life characters in a squalid hotel in the skid row area of Los Angeles.
In the course of one evening we meet the ensemble of hopeless characters who inhabit the area in and around the hotel including two sixty something ex-cons, three prostitutes, an English pimp, two amusing old black men, an annoying desk clerk, a homeless woman and various riff-raff.
The main story is about the two life long friend / ex-convicts Mic and Tommy who are reunited after one of them is released from prison. Mic (Vinnie Argiro) has arranged plans for him and Tommy (Donnie Montemarano) to leave town by bus for Vegas in the morning. But they still have a while night before the bus leaves. And the difficulty of going on the straight and narrow proves tough for these guys.
The secondary story is about a 15 year-old runaway teen (Nicole Jacobs who has a genuine innocence) who is a newly recruited prostitute. She is to be coached by one of the more seasoned hookers (Ann Magnuson) for her first night. But as is to be expected it's a rough ride; especially since the kid is still naïve enough to think she is going to become an independent woman by sleeping with old drunk men.
Night at the Golden Eagle is the kind of bleak, tough-minded film that a lot young aspiring directors write when they first get the sensation to write a script. But usually they sell out early and never return to such material because it has almost no appeal to either Hollywood or to mainstream audiences. Rifkin, who has previously only made mainstream movies (Detroit Rock City, The Chase), shows a whole other independent side to his artistic talent with this film. And for this alone Rifkin should be commended.
However, at its center there is still a formulaic story. In this case, it is about dreams deferred and the way that two old ex cons see the light to freedom but have to deal with their fate before they get there. The film too seems to revel in its miserable state; it's as if Rifkin decided to consciously do a 180 degree turn on everything he has done before.
Despite this the film rises above it's trapping due to its acting. Especially by the two older men Vinnie Argiro and Donnie Montemarano (who is amazing in his first film role) both of whom are life long buddies in real life and both of whom bring a real no nonsense quality to their rolls.