In Peter Yates’s The Friends of Eddie Coyle, there’s a unique understanding of the crime genre that’s almost difficult to find nowadays. The film is mostly quiet, but it is never boring, instead it is thoroughly entertaining. It’s a film carried through its amazing use of dialogue, it moves so smoothly and if anything there’s also something about it that gives it so much replay value. If anything, this is truly one of the great American films of the 1970’s and it also is Robert Mitchum at his finest ever since The Night of the Hunter, in this quiet, yet dark and gritty crime drama which remains one of the most overlooked of some of the very greatest examples of American cinema.
What’s especially commendable about The Friends of Eddie Coyle is how it doesn’t feel so much like a typical American crime film but there’s a very essence that it was very much inspired by French crime drama. For you have something like Bullitt, Dirty Harry, or The French Connection, then there comes something like The Friends of Eddie Coyle, where you feel more of a vibe that reminisces of Le Samouraï or Rififi. They don’t let out their energy just yet, they have a sense of quietness in its own establishment that still feels absorbing enough. Much like Rififi, The Friends of Eddie Coyle in all of its quietness absorbs the viewers for the big moments, resulting in a much bigger impact arising from what will turn out to be the payoff.
The Friends of Eddie Coyle regardless manages to encapsulate a gritty atmosphere that also gives the audience a feeling that they are within the world that these characters inhabit. Yet the film is never overtly violent nor does it need to be, all it needs is the nature of the characters within the series of events that surround them. It does not need violence in order to evoke such a gritty atmosphere for the dialogue and set pieces already are able to do the job right on the spot. There’s no unbelievable melodrama filling up what is meaning to be told, it’s a very naturalistic tone that sets the mood for what’s offered so perfectly. With the nuances coming in from the filmmaking, this truly is a special kind of American crime film.
Looking through the cast, it’s impressive what such a set manages to pull off. As always, Robert Mitchum is a stunner as the titular Eddie Coyle. It’s easy to sympathize with how desperate of a man he is, especially when he is caught within years in prison together with his friends, who are criminals, yet there’s never a sense that the film is glorifying the sort of lifestyle which he chooses to live. It’s not a very easy decision especially when these criminals are the only life he truly has. Among other high peaks in this cast include Peter Boyle, who does provide a nice break especially if you’re used to seeing him in more comedic roles.
Maybe for the matter, the reason everything is so tight in its structure is thanks to its screenplay by Paul Monash. The most well-known work of his in terms of feature films (he was mainly a television writer), just the very flow of dialogue is rather fascinating. It’s all very natural, and it also has a biting look at the criminal underworld especially when it’s the only life a person much like Eddie Coyle has. It has such an amazing touch to it, and aided together with Peter Yates’s direction, it remains all the more incredible. There’s a very Bostonian atmosphere which can be evoked from the very words that they speak and within due time, the cynicism arising from a specific level of sleaze comes into play, for it gives the film such cold-blooded roots.
Given the fact that The Friends of Eddie Coyle is fairly obscure, I just hope for a day in which it can get the recognition it deserves. If anything, it is one of the greatest American films of the 1970’s, or even one of the greatest American crime dramas for the matter too. It’s especially difficult to find such a naturalism that reminds a viewer like myself of what I love about French crime films like those of Jean-Pierre Melville. And it only bites more on every revisit. Cynical, brooding, and quiet, The Friends of Eddie Coyle is one of the best criminal stories ever to have been put on film. While it is already one thing to see criminals on film having sympathetic characteristics to them, where something like The Friends of Eddie Coyle falls under is the search for a place in society where one can reside. Quite easily, Peter Yates at his very best.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Paramount.
Directed by Peter Yates
Screenplay by Paul Monash, from the novel by George V. Higgins
Produced by Paul Monash
Starring Robert Mitchum, Peter Boyle
Release Year: 1973
Running Time: 103 minutes