director Peter Yates
The Friends of Eddie Coyle is the 1970’s era crime movie that lots of folks have been trying to make since the 1990’s.
I don’t mean “re-make” but “make”. A lot of film-makers love themselves a period picture and while some of them are semi-biographical movies set in the 1970’s in which they happened or just trying to capture the drab style and unsentimental style of the era, there are some design templates like The French Connection (1971) or The Friends of Eddie Coyle that just embody the period, depicting at the time the present, that titillates and tempts movie makers that “I want to make a movie that looks and feels like THIS!”
Of course, The Friends of Eddie Coyle was a contemporary picture in its day. Adapted from George V. Higgins’ novel of the same name from only three years before, the world of mouldering East Coast working class criminal life was a portrait of an existing present. And the film, shot on location in and around Boston and outlying towns, captures a world with some straightforward veracity that film embodies: train stations, city centers, suburban banks.
And it’s a bleak world.
Eddie Coyle is played here by Robert Mitchum, an aging “stand-up guy” (maybe before that moniker was such a cliché. He’s not exactly a cog in the criminal enterprise machinery since there is no one looking out for him but himself. Caught up in transporting stolen merchandise accross state lines, he’s about to go to prison and is looking for a way to stay his stint without selling out anyone he really knows. Only with a series of bank robberies that have escalated to killings and a kooky gang looking for machine guns to purchase, a lot is going down in the area. And if you are the small guy, trying to play it straight, you’re chances of success are pretty piss poor.
I’d read the novel earlier this year. Higgins’ book Coogan’s Trade had been made into a more contemporary film last year that I liked a lot, Killing Them Softly (2012) and I’d also read that novel of his (see, I do other things than simply watch movies! I read 20th century crime novels, too!) And Higgins’ world of working class crime isn’t as over the top as a lot of crime literature, not as pulpy anyways, but is quite compelling in its low-key drama and portraits of Boston and its boroughs.
Writer/producer Paul Monash and director Peter Yates (Bullitt (1968), Murphy’s War (1971), and Mother, Juggs & Speed (1976) to name a few) capture the time and place with drab, down at the heels realism. Mitchum might seem a tad old for the role but the cast is pure character actor gold with Peter Boyle, Richard Jordan, Stephen Keats, and Joe Santos. Realism is maybe a relative thing but from the locations to the fashions down to the automobiles, this film has an air of authenticity to it that sings.
Interestingly, if this film had been made today, perhaps, set designed and made to look as if it was actually 40 years ago, I think that there would be a lot more foul language, violence and maybe even racial epithets. Maybe not the latter, but I was struck at the subtle limitation and casualness of such things here.
There is also a scene shot at Boston Garden, watching a Bruins game, starring Bobby Orr, which, again, captures a time and place and aesthetic of major American sports but also the crowd and the scene therein that is just so of the moment. The footage looks utterly naturalistic, as shot at a real game, and the crowd looks like regular hockey enthusiasts, enjoying the fights as much as the scoring (if not more).
Great movie. Not perfect, but great movie indeed.