★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2
The Friends of Eddie Coyle revolves around the low-life underworld of Boston, Mass. The protagonist, Eddie Coyle (Robert Mitchum), is a greying gun runner and small-time crook who is currently awaiting an indictment in New Hampshire that might put him away again for several years; time he doesn’t feel he can afford to let go at his age. In an effort to help save face for his indictment, Eddie strikes up a relationship with a member of the Treasury Department, Dave Foley (Richard Jordan). Eddie then has to decide whether to rat on accomplices and business partners to save his own or play it cool with Foley, all the while keeping money coming in for himself and his family the only ways he knows how.
The film is a perfect example of the nitty, gritty crime dramas that were becoming popular in the early 1970s. The atmosphere, cinematography and locations exude a seediness that really makes the perfect setting for the tone of the story. Directed by Peter Yates, of Bullitt and Breaking Away fame, the pacing and shot selections are impecable. There are multiple moments in the film that keep you on the edge of your seat and evoke an overwhelming sense of tension. The cinematography by Victor J. Kemper is equally fitting for the film. Most shots are dominated by natural lighting as opposed to a stylized approach, and the graininess of the stock mixed with the unmistakable Technicolor palette make it feel almost documentaryesque (without the “shaky cam”, thank goodness).
The cast all around is excellent, but I think special note should be made about Robert Mitchum’s performance as Eddie. Mitchum, whom I consider one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood history, has a subtlety to his approach in playing this old time crook that makes his performance extremely natural and believable. The character of Eddie is a storyteller and there are several drawn out stories he tells throughout the film. Most of these stories stays on a static shot of Mitchum and the commanding presence during them is amazing. If you are unfamiliar with Mitchum, make sure to watch this film, Cape Fear, The Yakuza and Night of the Hunter at the very least to experience some of the amazing performances by this grossly underrated actor.
Though the story seems pretty straight forward in a synopsis review, there are multiple mini-plots that are going on throughout the film. Unlike some films, all of these mini-plots are intertwined and drive the story forward. For some reviewers, the ending becomes problematic and detracts from their enjoyment of the film and I can understand to a degree and appreciate their opinions. I don’t want to ruin it, but it’s not your standard Hollywood ending by any means. You have to keep in mind the tone of the story; for me, the ending fits the type of story that is being told. This is not the feel good movie of the year, but if you are looking for a deeply introspective look into the seedier circles of urban areas and a wonderful character study, then this is a film you need to see.