Director: Peter Yates / Writers: George V. Higgins (novel), Paul Monash (screenplay) / Starring:Robert Mitchum, Peter Boyle, and Richard Jordan When one of my friends offered to loan me the Criterion Collection DVD of The Friends of Eddie Coyle, I had never heard of the movie before. I didn’t bother to do any research about the movie before, or even immediately after, watching the movie. And while I did enjoy the movie, my deeper curiosity about it wasn’t really even piqued until a few days later, when a coworker saw it sitting on my desk and exclaimed “Oh – The Friends of Eddie Coyle – can I borrow that?!” Apparently this movie was all the rave back in the 1970s.
Then again, I suppose that part of the problem for me is that I’m not always crazy about crime dramas, particularly if they happen to be slow and or understated. As Ebert observes in his (1973!!) review of this film, the parts of this movie that hold our attention the least are the action sequences, when the banks are being robbed. The way the bank robberies were shot is, in fact, interesting to me, but because the real drama of the movie lied elsewhere, it definitely did feel a bit like I didn’t have much at stake as a viewer watching the robberies.
But maybe that wasn’t a bad thing. After all, the movie seems to be about a guy for whom the action just really doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of appeal. Eddie Coyle(Robert Mitchum) is a small-time Boston criminal whose chief aspirations seem to be to stay out of the can and be as good of a husband and father as a small-time criminal can be. The unfortunate thing we come to understand, however, is that Eddie is up for sentencing soon for a crime that didn’t go down as planned. Facing that rap, Eddie “Fingers” Coyle – who got his nickname for what his fellow thieves did to him when he was suspected of snitching before – finds himself thinking his only option to avoid getting locked up is to turn on his friends. Unfortunately for Eddie, the investigator he tries to work out a deal with keeps asking for more.
In some ways, this movie really felt like an early precursor to The Departed to me. A slower, quieter, simpler, and far less bloody precursor to The Departed, to be sure, but a precursor nonetheless. Robert Mitchum, an actor I recognize and feel very familiar with though I hardly knew his name before watching this, definitely makes Eddie Coyle very much a three-dimensional character. It was a little off-putting seeing Everybody Loves Raymond’sdad/grandpa playing bartender/mobster Dillon, but once I got over that, his relationship with Coyle sort of made the movie for me. I give this film an OM/YE thumbs up, for sure.