In one of the best performances of his legendary career, Robert Mitchum plays small-time gunrunner Eddie "Fingers" Coyle in an adaptation by Peter Yates of George V. Higgins’s acclaimed novel The Friends of 'Eddie Coyle.' World-weary and living hand to mouth, Coyle works on the sidelines of the seedy Boston underworld just to make ends meet. But when he finds himself facing a second stretch of hard time, he’s forced to weigh loyalty to his criminal colleagues against snitching to stay free. Directed with a sharp eye for its gritty locales and an open heart for its less-than-heroic characters, this is one of the true treasures of 1970s Hollywood filmmaking—a suspenseful crime drama in stark, unforgiving daylight.
The old proverb "With friends like these, who needs enemies?" is a likely question asked by many of the characters in Peter Yates' 1973 crime drama 'The Friends of Eddie Coyle.' Based on the debut novel of George V. Higgins, the film delivers a brutal, realistic look into Boston's criminal underworld at the time, informed by Higgins' day job as an Assistant United States Attorney.
As the movie opens, Eddie (Robert Mitchum) has already run into trouble up in New Hampshire while driving a highjacked truck for Dillon (Peter Boyle), a convicted criminal who now tends bar among other activites. [The Dillon character also appears in Higgin's third novel 'Cogan's Trade', which was adapted by Andrew Dominik and titled 'Killing Them Softly' with Sam Shepard playing the role.] Eddie is awaiting sentencing for his second stint in jail, but hopes the Feds will go easy on him in exchange for information. Maybe even give him a new life out West.
Fearing he's going to be going away for a while and leave his wife to fend for herself, Eddie makes money by selling guns. He buys them from Jackie Brown (Steven Keats), who is also dealing with a couple of clueless teenagers looking to buy machine guns. Eddie delivers the guns to a group of bank robbers led by Jimmy Scalise (Alex Rocco), who need a fresh supply for every job.
When people Eddie knows start getting arrested, everyone assumes he squealed to reduce his sentence. A major gangster known as "The Man" becomes very unhappy with the actions of law enforcement so he sets in motion a plan to send a message about squealing. Eddie is so concerned about going to jail he has no idea he's the target.
'The Friends of Eddie Coyle' excels because the scenes with characters talking are just as compelling as the scenes of action. There's just as much menace and tension during a bank robbery as there is when Eddie tells Jackie he needs guns the next day or else!
That's also due in part to the talents of Robert Mitchum, who delivers such an impressive performance he makes the viewer root for an unsympathetic character to succeed. Paul Monash wrote a great script because it didn't always make the obvious choice as it moved the plot along yet it also took time to let the characters just be, and the rest of cast made the most of those scenes as they brought the characters to life.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Friends of Eddie Coyle' (#475 in The Criterion Collection) comes on a 50GB Region A Blu-ray disc in a clear keepcase. The discs boot up directly to the menu screen without any promotional advertisements. Included is a booklet containing "They Were Expendable," an essay by Kent Jones; and “The Last Celluloid Desperado,” an excerpt from a “Rolling Stone” profile of Mitchum .
The video has been given a 1080p/AVC-MPEG-4 encoded transfer displayed at as aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The liner notes state "This high-definition digital transfer was created on a Spirit DataCine from a 35mm interpositive and a 35mm color reversal intermediate struck from the original negative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter, and flicker were manually removed using MTI's DRS and Pixel Farm's PFClean, while Digital Vision's Phoenix was used for small dirt."
Cinematographer Victor J. Kemper used a subdued palette, contributing to a light contrast. Under gray Boston skies, the colors are mainly dull hues, though they can be vibrant on occasion like the red Wells Fargo armored truck, the orange tree leaves of autumn, and Jackie's light green car. Blacks are inky, but objects can get lost in the shadows, as seen when Eddie leaves a package in a car trunk.
A small depth of field was used for many scenes. While there is strong clarity and texture detail in the foreground, depth is limited and backgrounds are frequently out of focus. There's a natural amount of film grain, and the image is free from dirt and defect, except for one establishing shot before the final bank robbery when a lot of black vertical scratches appear. The only other issue is a slight jitter as Dillon and his nephew switch cars at bowling alley.
Also according to the notes, the original monaural format " was remastered at 24-bit from a 35 mm magnetic dialogue, music, and effects track. Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum, and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. AudioCube's integrated workstation, and iZotope RX 4."
Dialogue, the predominant element on the track, is clear and understandable throughout. The dynamic range in scenes is mainly narrow because it rarely gets very loud other than the screeching of tires when the cops try and nab Jackie at the train station and the background noise at the hockey game. Dave Grusin's jazz score comes through with strong fidelity. It's a good mono mix that isn't required to deliver much.
Although the overall score might be low, due in part to the scores of the limited featues from Criterion and the disc's mono track, I highly recommend 'The Friends of Eddie Coyle' because it is so good and the HD presentation is as good as it's going to get with the source. It's a must-see for fans of crime stories, film noir, and Robert Mitchum.