Review: The Friends of Eddie Coyle -- Criterion Collection

It's a hard-knock life for an aging, small-time hood. Even if he's the "stand-up" variety, like Eddie "Fingers" Coyle (Robert Mitchum). The title character in The Friends of Eddie Coyle is a loyal gun-runner grunt for the Irish mob in Boston, about to be sent back to the big house for a truck-hijacking he pulled off for double-dealing, bar-tending hit man Dillon (Young Frankenstein and Everybody Loves Raymond's Peter Boyle).

It's not the first time he's taken the rap and done time without selling out his buddies. But it's perhaps the first time he thought about snitching to save himself. In the hopes of getting a good sentencing recommendation, he first decides to inform on non-mafia, street-smart gun buyer Jackie Brown (Steven Keats) to cop Dave Foley (Dune's Duncan, Richard Jordan). When that isn't enough for "Uncle" (as in "Uncle Sam's" law-enforcement posse), Eddie contemplates turning in a group of serial bank-robbing "friends" (including Alex Rocco) he's been supplying with guns. Meanwhile, for reasons not fully fathomable Dillon has been sharing information with the fuzz on a weekly basis for a while. (He's getting paid $20 a week. How much could that possibly have been worth in the '70s to a hit man? ... About $100?)

Directed by Breaking Away's Peter Yates, the 1973 drama's fuzzy, unfiltered lens portrays Coyle's world with the drab, grainy simplicity common for pictures of this era. The story itself is understated and unsentimental -- as is Mitchum's performance, which is solid but sometimes overshadowed by Keats' comically cocky yet cautious Jackie. All in all, it's a tough, gray world with no happy ending in sight for anyone.

Like many cinema classics that drew rave reviews in their time, The Friends of Eddie Coyle may lose something in the translation to a modern audience accustomed to advanced film technology and picture quality, perhaps resulting in a faded sense of suspense or realism. But the acting still rings true. (Unlike the now seemingly melodramatic talents I encountered when I recently revisited one of my favorite childhood TV shows by Alfred Hitchcock.)

I'd consider watching this work again, if only to get a closer look at undercover "Uncle" officers talking into their fingers Scotch-taped to microphones. Or to look closer at a sweet, banana-yellow Dodge Charger in its element.

Extras: Special features include the usual director commentary version of the movie and "stills," touted as rare, behind-the-scenes shots of the production and actors along with deleted scenes, which are sometimes preceded by captions. Think posing cast and crew members, buttocks-baring bedroom outtakes, and Mitchum signing autographs for local fans.