This life’s hard man, but it’s harder if you’re stupid
I used to look at Criterion collection dvds and make some assumptions. Those assumptions sounded something like “pretentious” or “old” or “not in English”. Well, the first chink in that armor was The Hit (1984) with Terrance Stamp (among a stellar small cast) and directed by Stephen Frears. And, while there was some pretty up front philosophizing going on, it was neither pretentious or old (by my reckoning). The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973) fits into the old category–that’s just too much funk to not be old–and there’s definitely no pretense.
Eddie Coyle (Robert Mitchum) is an upper-middle man in gun trafficking. He got his nickname, “Fingers”, because he screwed up once, cost a criminal some jail time, so he had to pay–they put his finger in a drawer and kicked it shut. It left a mark. Eddie’s got a 2-5 stretch coming up and he’s pretty eager to get out of it. To do that, he’s got to get in Foley’s (Richard Jordan–who, apparently, is the grandson of Learned Hand, cool huh?) good books. Foley’s also got Dillon (Peter Boyle) snitchin’ for him for $20 a week. All the while, a group of guys are going around robbing banks with the guns they get from Eddie.
The movie is very well written by Paul Monash (from the book by George Higgins). No, I haven’t heard of them either, nor does their remaining catalog appear to reach this level. Some of the lines stumble under the weight, but mostly it comes off as style. Peter Yates puts it together very well, keeping it dark and earthy.
Nobody can really trust each other and in that way the movie is realistic. You put jail time in front of somebody, they’re going to look for a way out. You snitch on somebody, you’re going to pin the snitching on somebody else. Oh, and don’t be stupid enough to sell machine guns to psychopaths.
I’m quick to discount the 70’s, but I think I just forget they’re from the 70’s. I think it’s going to be swanky and full of stupid 70’s lingo that will immediately make it dated and unwatchable, but rarely do the good ones do that. Crime movies are, perhaps, the quickest to fall down this path by putting stupid hip slang in the mouths of these feisty molls and coolest of cats. Okay, this one does that sometimes, but most of the characters are so old that it doesn’t come up too often. Still, I look over the AFI Top 100 movies of the 20th century and twenty two 70’s movies make an appearance–then again, who made the list? Not a bunch of teenagers or twenty-somethings I’ll wager.
As to performances, Robert Mitchum must have taught Robert De Niro. Either that or this is a favorite of De Niro’s. Option three is that you can only give three metaphorical anecdotes in a row if you use a certain cadence. Still, it works. Peter Boyle gets the same kind of material, but he plays it a little differently, a little too theatrically (in comparison to Mitchum, but Mitchum’s awesome, so maybe it’s unfair to compare, so there).
This is a “Hey, it’s that guy” movie. Watch it and if you don’t recognize (but vaguely) every main character in the movie, then you haven’t seen enough movies or you have a terrible memory and need that looked into. They all do their job and nobody stands out as particularly marvelous besides Mitchum, Boyle, and Jordan.
This is one of the many movies out there that’s a delight to find–to someone like me, that is, who likes seeing new movies. There are so many out there that I’d never heard of. This one I found because I wanted to watch The Yakuza (1974), also starring Mitchum, but I couldn’t find it at the library. So I looked on Amazon and it people also bought The Friends of Eddie Coyle.
And lo, it was available at my public library. The public library is perhaps the greatest example of a public good that there is. While you may face 25k in fines and jail time for downloading a movie, all you need is a library card and an entire world opens up before you risk free and at no cost.