DIRECTED BY

Peter Yates

 

STARRING

Robert Mitchum

Peter Boyle

Richard Jordan

Steven Keats

Alex Rocco

Joe Santos

Mitchell Ryan

 

RATED

R

 

RELEASED IN

1973

 

RUNNING TIME

1 Hr., 42 Mins.

The Friends of Eddie Coyle September 12, 2018  

hockey game, surrounded by about 15,000 onlookers, trying to ignore their psychic rot.

 

For years, Eddie, based in Boston, has worked as a delivery driver for a bakery by day and a low-level gunrunner by night. The latter job has doomed him. Recently, he was implicated in a hijacking, and is facing two years at New Hampshire's penitentiary. While watching Bobby skate across the ice with graceful aggression, Eddie tries blocking out the facts that his chance at redemption — snitching for immunity, with the assistance of an ATF agent (Richard Jordan) — has fallen through, and that the prospects of continuing with life as he’s known it are nil. (His affiliates know he’s an informant.) He camouflages his growing despondency with performative affection for Bobby. “Greatest hockey player in the world,” Eddie slurs. “Number four — Bobby Orr. Geez, what a future he’s got, huh?”

 

Eddie is nostalgic, in a way. Through Bobby, he sees himself years ago, thinking about his lust for life and his burgeoning capabilities, wondering where it all went. But overpowering the nostalgia is exhaustion. Eddie, sagging, greying, and ever-wearying, looks less like a man who needs to retire — tending to a sedulously built garden after carefully reading the morning paper — and more like one who’d prefer to be put out of his misery.

 

Sure, he loves his wife and kids, and even his meager little house wherein everything creaks and is a size or two too small. But the tug of war that characterizes his danger-daubed professional life, which mars just about everything, has become so draining, why bother anymore? That won’t stop him from trying to maintain his dignity, though.

 

In my review of the seminal French crime film Le Cercle Rouge, from 1970, I remarked that the men at its center never seemed to relish making bad. They, in contrast, looked destroyed by their wrongdoings. We could imagine them as young people, thinking a life of crime wouldn’t be one they’d adhere to for long. Yet here they are, aging and trapped in the sort of existence that can only end in unnatural death.

 

Peter is a lot like those characters. Only his despair is of a different kind. Whereas the criminals in Le Cercle Rouge had little, even nothing, to look forward to, Peter, leastwise, has his family. At this point in his life, he’s almost become able to reason that a life of crime is little different from tending to a mom-and-pop store down the lane. Only now is he facing serious repercussions. In The Friends of Eddie Coyle, from 1973, he’s at the end of his rope — at a moment when things, after more or less staying in a sturdy place for decades, are going to come crashing down.

 

The movie is based on erstwhile lawyer George V. Higgins’ 1970 novel of the same name, which is oft-credited for helping popularize the Boston noir genre. Adaptation is handled by the Paul Monash, the creator of the Peyton Place television series (1964-’69), and Peter Yates, the English director then synonymous with slickened forays into crime-drama filmmaking à la Robbery (1967) and Bullitt (1968).

 

Yates is the wrong choice to helm a feature like The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Or so it seems. Aesthetically, the movie’s stomachably naturalistic. The bleakness is quasi-romanticized, insouciantly cool. This is furthered by the sprinkling-in of near-silent, emphatically tense bank-robbery sequences that, while virtuosically coordinated, make for stylistic filler. Yates, for you.

 

But is Yates ill-considered for the directing job, or is Mitchum just so good that it seems that way? The eponymous Eddie’s among the hood-eyed actor’s most intriguing parts: an essentially good family man who got in over his head an eon ago and figured swimming upward would be useless. Mitchum’s famed visage — heavy-lidded eyes and a twisted mouth, atop a tight, sinewy body distinguished by parodistically broad shoulders — intensified his performances. Here, the heavy lids and twisted mouth remain, but the body is no longer tight and the shoulders no longer convey silent strength. Taut muscles sag; the once-firm gut pooches outward. Shoulders slump, not because he’s older now but because he’s been kicked down so many times that it’s hard to stand up straight. Our minds, then, juxtapose two Mitchums: the idiosyncratically handsome one rife in the 1940s and ‘50s, and the decaying — albeit still mesmeric — one we see in The Friends of Eddie Coyle.

 

Mitchum’s performance is so layered, and so empathetic, that we want to almost-exclusively spend time watching him. But because Yates applies the style of his The Hot Rock, released a year earlier, the focus isn’t so much on Eddie as it is the storyline. Although he’s the prioritized facet of the ensemble, the film is ultimately more about the crumbling of a section of a crime syndicate than it is the crumbling of a fraction of it. (That fraction, also known as Eddie Coyle, is at least at the center of this particular plot.) There is too much bustling, moving to and fro the binds of Eddie’s less-interesting semi-coequals.

 

But this stance, I think, has more to do with the perfection of Mitchum’s performance than with the filmmakers. If Eddie were played by someone less magnetic, the subplot might feel like another arm in a Gordian story, and the movie might better work as an ensemble-driven snippet of an ongoing saga. Mitchum is so excellent that we want The Friends of Eddie Coyle to be a streamlined character study — a posturing difficult for even the most skilled of actors to inspire. A

 

T

hough sozzled and sad, Eddie (Robert Mitchum) is able to see the potential in the hockey player Bobby Orr. Eddie is over the hill — on the last legs of his life and career, though not by his own volition. Bobby is 24, hale, and gifted — already considered one of the best in his field. He seems, for all intents and purposes, unstoppable. Eddie, by contrast, has been stopped. At the moment, he’s sitting next to Dillon (Peter Boyle), a bar owner, small-time-crime head honcho, and ostensible friend. They’re watching a

Peter Boyle and Robert Mitchum in 1973's "The Friends of Eddie Coyle."