Thursday, May 28, 2009

DVD of the Week: The Friends of Eddie Coyle: Criterion Collection

The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973) is one of those forgotten films from the 1970s. It’s a melancholic story of small-time criminals working on the fringes of Boston’s underworld. It’s not exactly the kind of feel-good story that lights up the box office but it is one of those fascinating, character-driven films that amazingly made its way through the studio system at a time when executives were willing to roll the dice on more challenging fare.

Eddie Coyle (Mitchum) is a minor league gunrunner who’s been around the block quite a few times as evident in a nice scene that introduces him making a deal with Jackie Brown (Keats), a guy who gets him all kinds of guns. The dialogue in this scene is well-written and delivered expertly by both Robert Mitchum and Steven Keats. The scene also provides some insight into Mitchum’s character as well as getting the narrative ball rolling. Coyle is looking at a stretch in prison for a job he did for Dillon (Boyle), a bartender who snitches to Dave Foley (Jordan), a cop. The film also follows a group of bank robbers led by a man named Scalise (Rocco) and his partner Artie Van (Santos). Coyle is trying to strike some kind of deal with Foley to stay out of prison because he has to support his family. Coyle supplies the bankrobbers with their guns and the question becomes, will he rat these guys out to save his own skin or will he give up Brown?

Paul Monash’s screenplay features the kind of conversational tough guy dialogue Quentin Tarantino wishes he could write. It’s strictly no frills and crackles with authenticity like you imagine the way criminals would really talk to each other. Almost every criminal interaction is rife with tension as we wait for someone to double-cross somebody else, especially in the scene where Brown buys a bunch of machine guns from three guys.

Nobody plays a world-weary yet savvy crook quite like Robert Mitchum who inhabits the role of Eddie Coyle effortlessly. Coyle is the kind of street-level crook that you see in a film like Mean Streets (1973). He leads the kind of blue collar existence that you could easily see him working in a factory instead of running guns. Mitchum is part of a solid ensemble cast that features the likes of Peter Boyle, Richard Jordan, Alex Rocco, and Joe Santos – all wonderful character actors who play their respective parts with complete conviction.

The Friends of Eddie Coyle presents an enthralling look at the levels of this particular criminal underworld and how it functions. There is nothing glamorous about how this world and the people who inhabit it are depicted. They are all just trying to get by. Peter Yates directs the film with the same no-nonsense approach that he applied to Bullitt (1968). The Friends of Eddie Coyle is a slice-of-life tale about a criminal in the twilight of his career trying to avoid a prison stretch and faced with some tough choices that he must make. If you’ve seen a number of crime films from the ‘70s then you pretty much know how this one’s going to end – most criminals either go to prison or wind up dead. However, this inevitability does nothing to detract from the superb way this film eventually plays out. Kudos to the folks at Criterion for pulling this one out of the archives and giving it the new lease on life that it deserves.

Special Features:

Unfortunately, the extras on this DVD are slim at best. As per usual, the accompanying booklet contains a well-written essay by film critic Kent Jones and an excellent profile of Mitchum published in Rolling Stone around the time of the film’s release.

There is an audio commentary by director Peter Yates. He cites The Friends of Eddie Coyle as one of the three favorites of his career because of the cast and the location. They shot entirely in Boston. Naturally, he talks about working with Mitchum and praises his style of acting. Yates says that they used as much of the dialogue from the novel as possible because it so authentically represented the rhythms of the way people speak in Boston.

Also included is a Stills Gallery of rare, behind-the-scenes photographs including scenes that were deleted.

6 comments:

  1. Thanks for mentioning this one, I watched this movie last year on cable and loved it. Wrote up a short review, and lamented it not being on DVD. Criterion once again to the rescue. It's one of Mitchum's best roles, and Peter Boyle's too.

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  2. I had never seen this film until the Criterion DVD came along and I loved every minute of it. And you're right, one of Mitchum and Boyle's best performances! Great stuff.

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  3. I read the novel before watching the DVD and found the film to be very faithful to its source. George V. Higgins seems to have been an influence on Tarantino's writing style, but Higgins's characters are understandably less obsessed about old movies and TV shows than Tarantino's.

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  4. Samuel Wilson:

    I am really curious to read the novel after seeing the film. And the fact that the film is quite faithful to the source material makes me admire the effort even more. Thanks.

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  5. I don't think I've ever seen this one. Sounds cool though. I always liked Robert Mitchum.

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  6. Keith:

    Prior to seeing it, I had heard of the film but never got around to checking it out until now. If you dig Mitchum you will love this film.

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