Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Friends of Eddie Coyle

Longtime Lamplight Drivel readers might recall my previous, enthusiastic entries about 1973's THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE, a film unavailable on any home media until 2009, when Criterion rescued it from the abyss. I've scolded Paramount before for this and several other lost movies in their catologue, and it bears repeating. Any studio honchos reading this? Step it up! Hash out the legal issues already! There are audiences willing to shell out $$ for even a modest DVD, rather than forking upwards of fifty bucks for a used VHS or some fifth generation bootleg.

It would've been a real shame if THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE had languished in obscurity for good. This is a perfectly realized bit of early 70s grit, a lean exercise in crime cinema. Sharp, no nonsense direction by Peter Yates. Another film of its decade without a shred of phony sentiment or sympathy for its characters or their predicaments. Not so much a cautionary tale as just a (nonetheless stylish) point and shoot documentary style elegy to a crummy life, with its day to day droning, and certain pitfalls. Paul Monash's script is as bleak as they come.

Coyle (Robert Mitchum) is a small time criminal in Boston, running guns for a crime syndicate. He has been busy of late, supplying and constantly replenishing for a group of serial bank robbers who dispatch their weapons after each job. Coyle obtains his arsenal from a supplier named (yes, it's true) Jackie Brown (Steven Keats).

Eddie also has a legitimate truck driving job and wife and kids, but barely making it.  To add to his woes, a prison sentence looms for his previous involvement in a truck hijacking. Coyle desperately tries to cut deals with an ATF Fed named Foley (Richard Jordan), who, unbeknownst to Coyle, uses his "friend", bartender Dillon (Peter Boyle) as an informant.

THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE nimbly travels the Boston landscape across locations both sleazy and manicured with each character, each with their own strict methodology. All are desperate, not just Eddie. Dillon balks at being rushed to do a hit. Jackie, all twitchy energy in his street smarts, has particular standards for his purchases and sales. Foley is trying to please his superiors. Everyone is acutely aware of the danger of their work and trying not to get pinched by somebody else. Selling out the other guy is always an option in order to survive. Running out of time hangs like the oft referenced Sword of Damocles over everybody.  All are quite aware that the System will eventually destroy them.

Eddie is the saddest of all. A low level hood whose life ultimately isn't highly valued. The climax and denouement of the movie makes the case in devastating understatement. It cuts harder and deeper than would've a louder conclusion. This is one of Mitchum's very best roles. And a hell of a movie.

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