Cinema has long been entrenched in its romanticism and mythologising of the career criminal, like previous generations fascinations with warriors or pirates there has been a historical fascination with those not bound by our day-to-day rules. Long story short, these archetypes have evolved into marketable heroes. Perhaps the grim reality of these lives has become more prominent in the last decade or so, but back in the 1970s such sombre realism was a scarce. Enter Peter Yates, the director of Bullitt and Murphy’s War (and later Krull), who along with Paul Monash adapted George V. Higgins’ unsympathetic Friends of Eddie Coyle.
On the best form of his career, Robert Mitchum stars as the titular Eddie “Fingers” Coyle, a gun-runner and thief for a crime organization in Boston. As the film opens Coyle is facing several years in prison for a truck hijacking in New Hampshire set up by Dillon (Peter Boyle), stuck between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand he has Dave Foley (Richard Jordan), a police officer who expects some sort of collaboration if Coyle wants to stay out of Prison and on the other is the criminal underbelly (his friends) who he is expected to sell out. He betrays one and he ends up prison for the foreseeable future, betray the other and he’s liable to end up dead.
That aforementioned grim reality comes through the visual presentation of Mitchum’s plight and his performance. Director of Photography, Victor J. Kemper, worked with many indie film starlet directors in the 70s and that prosaicness is instilled in every frame. Their Boston is a mire of grey buildings and indifference, making the distrust inherent in this representation of the criminal underworld and Coyle’s predicament all the more oppressive.
Yet none of this would work without a centrepiece to tie it altogether in Mitchum’s weighty titular role. For much of his career Robert Mitchum played a score of undesirables and romanticised bad guys and that informs his performance here, the heft of this history hanging from his back making his usual hangdog expression all the more significant. His fatigue seeps deep into the DNA of the film. Take the hold-ups as an example of this at play, they have a quiet control and consideration with every last shrug and syllable informed by a fear of capture or reprisal. Consequently demystifying the lawbreakers that Hollywood has had an unyielding love affair with both before and after Eddie Coyle.
There is much to be exalted in this sombre gangland thriller with its defensive attitude in a genre obsessed with aggressive cockiness. It’s difficult to understate the importance of The Friends of Eddie Coyle. As evident as all that may be there is a disappointing final act to contend with. Violence and the survival instinct are developed under the umbrella of realism, yet at the peak of the narrative it comes unstuck. Think of the abruptness of Haneke’s Hidden or the Coen’s No Country of Old Men followed by an expositional dump that turns this grubby tableau into something a little too clean in its resolution.
The print featured in this Masters of Cinema release retains the grain and murk from the underbelly, thus retaining the massive personality that Yates’ film possesses. Unlike other MoC releases, extras feature both on disc and their iconic booklets, making for one of their more complete releases. Outside of the rare opportunities when ‘Making Of documentaries’ are possible, the next best thing are video appreciations and the passion exuded from these pieces never fails to disappoint and critic Glenn Kenny upholds that tradition.
SPECIAL FEATURES :
- Restored, high-definition digital transfer
- Uncompressed monaural sound on the Blu-ray
- A new video appreciation of the film by critic Glenn Kenny
- A 1996 career-spanning on-stage interview with Peter Yates hosted by critic Derek Malcolm
- English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
- 44-PAGE BOOKLET featuring a new essay on the film by critic Mike Sutton; an extensive interview with Yates, and archival images
THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE IS OUT NOW ON MASTERS OF CINEMA BLU-RAY