Tuesday 26 April 2022

Movie Review: The Friends Of Eddie Coyle (1973)

A gritty crime drama, The Friends Of Eddie Coyle is a study of one character facing a host of bad choices.

In Boston, Eddie Coyle (Robert Mitchum) is a low-key lifelong associate of criminals, hovering on the margins of more hardened mobsters. Middle-aged and married with young kids, Eddie is dreading the prospect of a two year prison sentence after a conviction for driving a truck filled with embezzled goods. He nevertheless continues dabbling in crime, buying stolen guns from supplier Jackie Brown (Steven Keats) and providing them to a bank-robbing gang led by Jimmy Scalise (Alex Rocco) and Artie Van (Joe Santos). 

Eddie's friend Dillon (Peter Boyle) runs a bar popular with criminal types, and is also an informant providing tips to agent Dave Foley (Richard Jordan) of the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms bureau. Eddie is desperate to avoid jail time, and reaches out to Foley requesting leniency in exchange for tips. But this means Eddie will need to rat on his friends, with unpredictable outcomes. 

An adaptation of a George V. Higgins book, The Friends Of Eddie Coyle is so nearly a great experience. Writer Paul Monash trusts his audience to fill the necessary gaps, and provides a sparse screenplay ready to leap between scenes with confidence bordering on arrogance. Director Peter Yates does the rest with understated panache, capturing non-descript Boston corners populated by desperate men who should know better than to still be dabbling in trading guns and robbing banks.

At the centre of it all is the sad Eddie Coyle, brought to life by one of Robert Mitchum's best performances. Here is a middle aged man with a nominal job, a wife, and kids, almost within touching distance of the lower rungs of the middle class. Staring at a looming prison stint and living in a world with real codes but no real friends, he has nowhere to go but sideways towards more crime and maybe downwards when his luck runs out.

But the movie suffers from some fundamental problems, including not devoting enough time to Eddie nor his friends. Instead Yates burns many scenes and many minutes on the methodical bank robberies, indistinguishable criminals in masks holding irrelevant tertiary characters as hostages while safes are emptied. Two complete and almost identical heists make it to the screen, a third one is attempted, and none of them add much to the plot. Another long sequence featuring arrest mechanics also turns into a distraction and narrative dead-end.

The wasted emphasis is more of a pity because the time could have been invested on character definition. Jackie the gun seller, Dillon the bar operator, and Foley the cop all demonstrate promise and could have been rounded into compelling and memorable occupants of Eddie's world. Instead they are stranded in stock representations spouting canned tough-guy dialogue with no backstories.

The Friends Of Eddie Coyle are a grim bunch, their story suitably downcast but deserving of better depth.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

No comments:

Post a Comment

We welcome reader comments about this post.