“The Friends of Eddie Coyle” (1973)

I saw the film, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, mentioned in the back pages of one of my favorite comic books, Criminal (in “The Sinners” #2), by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. Some time later, I saw the book it’s based on recommended The Morning News. I saw the film recommended again, along with the recently released on DVD The Town, as a good Boston crime movie. Then when I finally borrowed it last week from the library, I saw the director was Peter Yates, who had just died, though he’s perhaps better remembered for Bullitt with Steve McQueen and the bicycle movie Breaking Away.

The film is a strange but effective balancing of big and little. Robert Mitchum is Eddie “Fingers” Coyle, a career criminal who’s facing prison time. Mitchum, who was Hollywood royalty at the time, is surrounded by a cast of little-known but terrific character actors. As they move in and out of conversations and meetings with one another, the big picture begins to grown out of the small incidents. It might have been a character study, but it does have a few big scenes, like a choreographed bank robbery and car chase. The moments of action are islands in this mostly quiet film, though. There are few guns fired, and when they go off, they count. This is a grey Boston crime tale of the 70’s, and I’m still mulling over why it’s sad, but not (quite) bleak. The Criterion Collection does not have many extras on the DVD, but comes with a thick booklet with an essay about the film as well as the Rolling Stone piece on Mitchum written while he was filming it.

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