Dirty Deals & Double Crosses – Rediscovering ‘The Friends of Eddie Coyle’ (US 1973 – 102 mins)

Posted in Rediscover by - December 24, 2015
Dirty Deals & Double Crosses – Rediscovering ‘The Friends of Eddie Coyle’ (US 1973 – 102 mins)

A masterful crime flick and a modern-day film noir, Peter Yates’ critically acclaimed drama ‘The Friends of Eddie Coyle’ is a dark and fatalistic piece about the criminal underworld that features some of the most natural acting I’ve ever seen on screen.

With a possible stretch in prison awaiting him, petty hood Eddie “Fingers” Coyle (Robert Mitchum) decides to squeal on his friends to the Feds, giving them information regarding a batch of stolen firearms. While continuing to make deals with a Boston arms dealer in order to supply guns to some bank robbers, Coyle tries to work both sides by giving Federal agent Foley (Richard Jordan) just enough information to help the law, while keeping himself out of jail. How long will it be however, before Coyle’s criminal ‘friends’ find out who’s snitching on them?

Based on George V. Higgins 1970 best-seller, ‘The Friends of Eddie Coyle’ is an engrossing dialogue-heavy picture featuring some memorable verbal sparring between some outstanding actors. Screen legend Robert Mitchum was ideally cast as the world-weary Eddie Coyle, and gives perhaps his greatest screen performance. Peter Boyle is also on form as a shifty hit-man turned bartender, and a smiling Richard Jordan is terrific as Foley, the even shiftier cop. The supporting cast includes a plethora of cult character actors, including Alex Rocco, Mitchell Ryan and a scene-stealing Steven Keats as gun runner Jackie Brown.

British director Peter Yates had earlier made the British true-crime picture ‘Robbery’ (’67) with Stanley Baker, and then the Steve McQueen favourite ‘Bullitt’ (’68). After making the entertaining caper ‘The Hot Rock’ (’72), Yates got back to serious mode with this masterpiece, and he freely allows his camera to follow the actors, observing their actions and conversations. The outstanding screenplay was by television scripter Paul Monash, while the cinematography was from Victor J. Kemper, who went on to photograph another masterpiece, Sidney Lumet’s ‘Dog Day Afternoon’ (’75).

Although there are no shootouts or typical Seventies car chases, it’s the realism in the acting and the script that stand out for me. Some of my favourite moments are the secret meetings between Richard Jordan’s shifty detective and Peter Boyle’s stoolpigeon. I’ve also always enjoyed the scenes featuring Steven Keats’ machine-gun loving gun-runner, who drives around in a yellow muscle car with his secret stash of shooters.

Featuring some career-best performances from a stellar cast, this is ultra-realistic cinema at its finest. Even though the ending is rather downbeat, it befits the movie, making ‘The Friends of Eddie Coyle’ a gritty and bleak masterpiece, and a contender for my favourite movie of 1973.

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