Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Friends of Eddie Coyle (Peter Yates, 1973)

If The Friends of Eddie Coyle has a fatal flaw, it is the score by Dave Grusin that seems more attuned to a TV police drama than an observant look at the inner workings of the Boston mob. The film is so ordinary that the attempted enhancements of the awfully dated keyboard track collide tragically with the plain, unadorned action to which it is set. Besides that single distraction, The Friends of Eddie Coyle far surpassed my expectations. Roger Ebert’s glowing review cites the bank robberies as unnecessary, because he believes it to be Mitchum’s film. And while Robert Mitchum, with his droopy eyes and turned-down mouth and effortless ability to convey world weary sadness and years of pain, is at his best, the film is truly an ensemble piece, and without the bank heists and the gun exchanges and everything else that doesn’t involve Mitchum, the viewer could never get an overarching view of the Boston mob as a network of various deals and encounters, all of which are marked by an only customary formality and a terrifying paranoia. Kent Jones’ insightful essay describes the film as a showcase for some of the best character actors of the seventies, almost none of whom ever got a better opportunity to shine. What I found so haunting about the film is the starkness of it all; it is not an insistent, manipulated tone of foreboding, but in its frank subject matter and grimy Boston locales there is an extremely tacit sense of fear—the fatal deadlines of a gunrunner’s drop-offs or the deadly misunderstandings implicit in the complicated relationship between mob and police. It is without a doubt an early seventies crime gem, easily in the same range of quality as The Godfather.

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