The Friends of Eddie Coyle

Year 1973

Robert Mitchum   as  Eddie Coyle
Peter Boyle as Dillon
Richard Jordan as Dave Foley
Steven Keats as Jackie Brown
Alex Rocco as Jimmy Scalise  
Director - Peter Yates
Screenwriter - Paul Monash  

This is probably another movie that you've never heard of. The Friends of Eddie Coyle (FEC) is a movie that for some reason has been hidden away. No one wanted to bother with it. Movies like Chicago make it to DVD, but movies like FEC languish away. I guess at one point there was a pan and scan version released (yuck! icky!) but it never got the royal treatment...until now.

Like the title says, FEC really is more about the friends of Eddie Coyle than it is about Eddie Coyle himself. Eddie (Robert Mitchum) is a low rent Boston thug peripherally associated with the mob. Even Treasury Agent Foley (Richard Jordan) who's trying to compromise him says Eddie's low on the rungs but gets around.

Who are Eddie's friends? They're people who make Eddie seem compassionate. They're people like him bank robbers, gun dealers, and murderers. Foley, by his cold nature and cognizance of events, becomes one of the fraternity.

What's the plot? It's more of the slice of life story about two weeks in the life of Eddie while he's waiting for sentencing for a crime. The closer the date of sentencing nears, the more desperate Eddie becomes to work a deal.

What makes this movie good? It certainly isn't the inclusion of the wacka-jawacka music that seemed to disturb films of the early seventies. Mercifully, the "contemporary" sound disappears or at least fades into the background after the first bank heist. What's good about the movie, besides top-notch acting from most of the characters, is the way the story is presented.

There aren't any heavy handed moments where philosophies or back stories are laid out like filleted fish. Every detail the writer and director want you to know about comes at you naturally and at its own pace. What was the crime Eddie was waiting to be sentenced for? Something about running trucks of booze. But that's all you're told. In the end, the details of the crime don't matter and spending time explaining it would be a distraction instead of a hook.

After hearing a little bit about the crime, you want to hear more. So you watch to hear more. As you hear more, you begin to wonder if Eddie wasn't being set up. It's never even hinted at, but all of the other events in the movie force you to ask that question. Talk about a deft touch by both writer and director.

While witnessing interwoven events like kidnappings and banks heists play out, there comes a point about half-way through the movie, and I'm bragging that I recognized this, there was a bit of a deja vu feeling. I found myself saying, "Please. No chase scene like Bullitt! This is a different movie." Then, I realized that this movie had the same downbeat feeling as Bullitt. The inferred narrative paradigm between the two films was identical as well. Oily mackerel! Peter Yates directed both movies! No wonder FEC is so subtlely sublime.

Everything is day to day grey, just like life. Nothing is clean, polished, or brand spanking new. Well, maybe gun runner Jackie Brown's (Steven Keats) car is, though the conversations within the vehicle are quite pedestrian with discussions like, "Did you get the hemi or magnum engine for this thing?"

Nice, nostalgic, and realistic.

The gun runner has one of the best lines, "Life's hard enough without being stupid."

A lot of commentary from others regarding this film concerns the performance of Robert Mitchum. I agree that he turns in an excellent, low keyed portrayal of the titular character. Even when Eddie's beaten down by life, Mitchum still dominates every scene through sheer presence. He never gets a chance to explode in what would be, by today's standards, the hackneyed emotional diatribe. That's because Eddie's not intended to be a caricature; he's intended to be someone who might really exist.

The supporting characters are less well drawn, but still compelling. For example, his bank robber buddies should be pathological enough that you don't care about them. But you do. This pathos projects itself onto even the incidental characters. When the robbers' first hostage is released, I wanted the man to live. Not because I liked the man but because I didn't want to dislike the bank robbers.

Treasury Agent Foley is another fine character. He's twisted and manipulative, but you've got to believe that when he promises something, he'll come through. Unfortunately for Eddie, Foley never promises him anything worthwhile.

The surprise scene stealer is Peter Boyle. If you've ever heard that he was a good actor, someone lied to you. In Joe he was being a nasty side of himself. In The Candidate he was convincing as the campaign manager in a well written script. In Young Frankenstein he didn't have to say much (good job there, Mr. Boyle). In Everybody Loves Raymond he just had fun without having to act much.

But in FEC, even with his wooden performance, he's an unforgettable character. If you want to see the face of despicable, his Dillon character is what it looks like. You have to watch the whole movie to find out just how low he's become and how bent the Treasury agent is.

There are some flaws with the movie that prevent it from being great. The music is one. Also, little continuity gaffes like one bank robbery that's filmed inside of a real branch. Nice touch. You can even see the "FDIC" sticker on a teller's window. But then in the next scene, the robbers brag that they're safe because they only rob Savings and Loans and they aren't covered by the Fed. The FDIC sticker was a slip up.

Not all of the actors are good. Who was that blond youngster who tried to get tough with Jackie Brown about the automatic rifle? Oh, wait. In the movie it's a "machine gun". Pretty weak on both counts - acting and vocabulary. The M-16 offered by Jackie Brown is not what one thinks of when thinking of a machine gun. Of course terms like "assault rifle" weren't used much, if at all, back then.

The worst thing about the movie was that I never felt the sense of urgency that was supposed to be driving Eddie. Supposedly his life is in upheaval and he'll be leaving his family for three to five years if things don't go well. Okay. So what? What's three to five years for an Eddie Coyle? Was it Mitchum's acting that failed to display an unravelling? Was it perhaps too low key? Was it the writing? Maybe a scene that demonstrated some sympathy for the character was deleted? Who knows?

But the movie's worth watching. It's a little gem. The Peter Boyle character will stick with you. And you'll ask yourself, "Was Eddie Coyle part of the gang during the first bank robbery?"

Worth checking out at least once.

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