Stars: Robert Mitchum, Peter Boyle, Richard Jordan, Steven Keats, Alex Rocco, Joe Santos, Mitchell Ryan, Peter MacLean, Marvin Lichterman, Carolyn Pickman, James Tolkan, Margaret Ladd, Matthew Cowles | Written by Paul Monash | Directed by Peter Yates
One of the fun things about loving a particular medium is the aspect of things being recommended, and this is something which has really grown in prominence for me with the growth of social media and podcasts. Having so much immediate access to the thoughts and opinions of others you specifically choose to listen to, whether they align with your tastes or challenge them, enables the discovery of a great deal of content in which much pleasure can be derived. One such example of this is The Friends of Eddie Coyle, a film which I hadn’t heard of before seeing and hearing talk of it’s forthcoming release over the past few months. Seeing that it is available on Blu-ray this week, and on the Masters of Cinemas label no-less, made me curious to finally check it out and boy am I glad I did. The Friends of Eddie Coyle is an exceptional watch.
Made 5 years after is probably director Peter Yates’ most famous effort Bullitt, The Friends of Eddie Coyle is a film purpose-fit for the 1970′s both in style and content. Opening as it means to go along, we are immediately drawn into a situation which feels abstract with a normal businessman going about his daily routine but being tracked by both the camera and people around him. Who is this man? Why is he being followed? Is our hero here, our villain? We are made aware of none of this, though it does form a part of the plot eventually, and after this scene we are taken somewhere completely different as the plot starts to open up introducing Eddie Coyle himself played with the magnetic charm Robert Mitchum had in his films decades prior but with a crushing sense of inevitability haunting him throughout. Coyle is a low-level hood, one whose been around forever and is respected, well-liked but doesn’t seem to have been able to break through to a higher level and in an effort to try and change things, as well as get out of a lengthy prison spell which would effectively end the meaningful portion of his life, he decides to rat on those around him in the hope that he can escape cleanly. Of course, this being a film of this time and genre nothing ends cleanly, but the journey to that point is damn effective.
Yates has never been all that showy a director, the car chase in Bullitt is by far his most, but there’s a skill in staying out of the way, of letting the filmmaking be a more passive observer, just letting the characters and the story do the heavy lifting. There’s barely a note of musical score in the film, the camera is often locked off and static, Yates knowing that the day-to-day machinations of Coyle being increasingly juxtaposed by the net closing in on him is enough to sustain the tension for all 100 or so minutes. This comes about in many varying scenes, an elongated bank heist feels like it’s playing in real-time though it obviously isn’t, an illegal arms buy turns into a masterclass of knowing just how to crank the suspense and even dialogue scenes between Eddie and a mysterious barman who knows more than he lets on, played exceptionally by Peter Boyle, crackle with electricity when the audience knows more than Coyle as much as when we are as in the dark as he is.
The 1970′s were a perfect fit for paranoia filled thrillers within all sorts of genres. While Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Serpico, Chinatown and more get an awful lot of love, The Friends of Eddie Coyle feels rather unheralded. If this review urges just one person to give it a crack, it will give me just as much pleasure as this rather staggering piece of work which deserves to be talked about as much as any other film of this ilk, if not more so.
The Friends of Eddie Coyle is released on dual-format Blu-ray from Eureka! Entertainment on January 25th.