Peter Yates' 1973 film The Friends of Eddie Coyle was based on George V. Higgins novel of the same name. Set in Boston, the film was a huge influence on Ben Affleck's recent Boston set, blue collar crime movie The Town.
Eddie "Fingers" Coyle (Robert Mitchum) is a low level career criminal in Boston, he's been around for (too many) years and knows all the right people. In his last job, bootlegging liquor he was busted and is now facing a two to five year jail term. Worried about his family, Eddie is desperate to avoid doing time again. He decides to turn snitch to a treasury agent (Richard Jordan). In the world of hoods and cops, how does he know who he can trust anymore? Who is informing on who? and is what he can offer enough?
The Friends of Eddie Coyle is a remarkably low key affair, and a relatively unknown gem perhaps due to the difficulty in being able to see it. Unavailable for years until the recent Criterion dvd release, it's unbelievable that a film as good as this is so little known.
Yates' movie is a lean, hard boiled noir tinged thriller, by no means an action film but it does boast a couple of tense and exciting bank heists. The real strength of the film is in the writing and the performances of the fantastic cast. The writing of the web of characters and how they interact shows a faith in the audience's intelligence sorely lacking in modern movies, if only more films would treat us with this same level of respect. It's also fantastic to see a crime film at this end of the spectrum for a change. Usually we see gangsters or criminals who are already wealthy, with the fast cars and huge houses doing jobs for hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars rather than the small jobs of people, like most of us, who are trying to make enough money to make ends meet.
Robert Mitchum has rarely been better than he is here as Coyle, the world weariness and rumpled appearance he brings to the role is perfect. He has a couple of excellent scenes with his wife that generate some sympathy for a character that is largely unsympathetic. Ultimately though, Coyle is a sad sack of a man, backed into a corner through his desperation to avoid jail, he makes a series of mistakes that as a younger man he would likely not have made. Forced into breaking the rules of the lifestyle that has consumed him, he is left with nowhere to go. Mitchum portrays this supremely well, he has some great lines but does most of his acting through facial expressions rather than words, in keeping with the low key nature of the movie.
Richard Jordan as the slippery treasury agent is excellent, using any and all means to catch the men he's after regardless of the consequences for anyone else. He's fully aware of the situations of all the "tools" at his disposal and uses, manipulates, ignores and discards as he sees fit. Peter Boyle is as good as he's ever been in a low key performance as Coyle's seemingly "best friend". Great support comes from Steven Keats as an arms dealer pivotal to the story and Alex rocco as leader of the bank robbers.
Yates' makes excellent use of the Boston locations and the film looks great thanks to the gritty cinematography of Victor Kemper. It's not hard to see why the film didn't do well with the tough, harsh and downbeat tone, along with the waning star power of Mitchum at the time. This maybe why the film has been so hard to see and why the film is still so unknown and that makes it's ripe for rediscovery.
It's Mitchum's movie through and through, get to know it and you'll surely love it, from a classic decade of film, it's one of the best!