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Studio: The Criterion Collection
Year: 1973
Cast: Robert Mitchum, Peter Boyle, Richard Jordan, Steven Keats, Alex Rocco, Joe Santos, Mitch Ryan
Director: Peter Yates
Release Date: May 19, 2009
Rating: R for (language, violence)
Run Time: 01h:40m:00s
Genre(s): crime, thriller, drama

"I shoulda known better than to trust a cop." - Eddie "Fingers" Coyle (Robert Mitchum)


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Sidestepping every convention of the gangster genre, this '70s gem deserves a second chance.

Movie Grade: A-

DVD Grade: B+

Eddie Coyle's life presents a grim perspective on the world of small-time hoods. This low-level gangster is facing a second stint in jail and working every angle to find an out. Dealing behind the scenes with the cops, Coyle (Robert Mitchum) edges across the line but tries to avoid becoming a full-fledged rat. Meanwhile, the police can't be trusted and are working with his buddies in the same manner. Everyone's working a different angle and cares little about its effects on their associates. With friends like these, who needs friends?

Adapted from George V. Higgins' novel, this intriguing 1973 crime film has been largely forgotten. Its narrative avoids the simple path and gives a broad view of the Boston gangster scene. Coyle actually disappears for large chunks of time, leaving us confused about each sequence's purpose. We observe several bank robberies that feel strangely disassociated from the central plot. One caper ends in violence, which brings a nasty certainty to their illegal activities. This film spends as much time with the "friends" as we do with Coyle. The on-the-street atmosphere is compelling, but the approach never glamorizes the life like in such recent Boston gangster pictures as The Departed. Coyle spends his days in low-lit diners, grimy industrial sites, and other remote locations that reveal the crappy side of his job. He's struggling to pay the bills and support his family like many legitimate folks but is simply working in a much-different arena.

Director Peter Yates (Bullitt, Breaking Away) employs a low-key style that doesn't overplay the importance of any particular moment. The Friends of Eddie Coyle is the anti-Bullitt and completely avoids energetic chases or shootouts. Shot at realistic locations, this picture gives the actors room to shine by avoiding complex set pieces. Veteran television writer Paul Monash's script includes believable dialogue that never falls into the Tarantino-like trap of being ridiculously clever. Following a large group of characters through a series of vignettes, we grasp the environment perfectly. But there are some difficulties with this style, which may confuse viewers expecting a straightforward narrative. A few scenes do seem repetitive, but the confident direction keeps us interested enough to survive any tedium.

This Criterion Collection release includes an interesting commentary from Yates, recorded in 2009 by the 79-year-old filmmaker. It's a sedate presentation, but he offers good material if you're willing to sit through a few dry spells. This film is one of Yates' three favorite jobs, and his affection for this picture is evident throughout the discussion. Equally absorbing is the text booklet, which contains a lengthy 1973 Rolling Stone portrait of Mitchum, "The Last Celluloid Desperado" by Grover Lewis. Thoughts from his daughter Trina and several actors complement the impressive comments from the actor himself. Kent Jones also provides a modern look in the shorter essay "They Were Expendable." It's not packed with extras, but this package gives compelling insights about the film.

The Friends of Eddie Coyle works best as a portrait of a middle-aged Mitchum, who creates a somber, weary character. By the end, Coyle's reduced to a drunken stupor with little control over his ultimate end. The supporting cast offers many notable turns, particularly Peter Boyle as a creepy bartender and Richard Jordan as a sly detective. Both generate considerable depth within a minimal amount of scenes. Sidestepping every convention of the gangster genre, this '70s gem deserves a second chance. It's not a flashy picture and probably won't charm modern audiences expecting a grander tale. But discerning young viewers should find plenty to discover in this unconventional release.

Posted by: Dan Heaton - May 25, 2009, 9:41 am - DVD Review
Keywords: crime, robert mitchum, peter yates, criterion

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