THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE (Yates, 1973)
Criterion Collection, DVD, Release Date 5/19/2009
Review by Christopher S. Long
(Criterion is releasing “The Friends of Eddie Coyle” on Blu-ray this week. I am re-posting my review of the 2009 DVD release of the same title; the Blu-ray does not include any new extras. You might want to look elsewhere if you want to read about, like, the plot. Or other stuff.)
Consider this a tribute to George V. Higgins (1939-1999), author of the 1970 novel “The Friends of Eddie Coyle” on which the 1973 Peter Yates film is based:
The director sat down next to the producer and smiled.
“Robert Mitchum,” the director said.
“Robert Mitchum?” the producer said.
“Robert Mitchum,” the director said. “He’s the only guy who can play Eddie Coyle.”
“That crazy bastard can’t be trusted,” the producer said. “He'll piss all over you. Literally.”
“I can handle him,” the director said. “I think.”
“But Eddie Coyle’s a two-bit nobody. Robert Mitchum’s a big-time somebody,” the producer said.
“Mitchum can do it,” the director said. “Didn’t you see him in ‘Ryan’s Daughter’?”
“OK. I can get him,” the producer said. “I’ll get him for you. I know people. I’ll get him.”
The waiter brought them two beers. The producer sipped his. The director didn’t. He had ordered a gin and tonic, but the waiter didn't like him.
“And I want Peter Boyle as Dillon,” the director said.
“You want Peter Boyle,” the producer said. “The guy that played Joe?”
“This guy’s gonna be big some day,” the director said. “I just know it. He’s just right. Think about it.”
“Yeah, I can totally see that,” the producer said. “But we need to talk about this title. The Friends of Eddie Coyle. It’s not like these guys are his friends.”
“It’s ironic,” the director said. “A guy like Eddie Coyle doesn’t have any friends. Nobody cares about Eddie Coyle.”
“The audience might not either,” the producer said.
“They will if we cast Robert Mitchum,” the director said.
“I see your point,” the producer said. “By the way, I understand the ironic thing already. You think you’re a clever prick, don’t you? But I still don’t like the title. It doesn’t look good on a poster. It’s not sexy.”
“There’s no sex in this movie. Not even a romantic interest,” the director said.
“Yeah, but we don't want the audience to think that,” the producer said.
“Nobody’s going to see this movie anyway, Paul,” the director said.
“That’s not funny, Peter,” the producer said. He wiped the beer suds from his chin. “Fine, the title stays. But this thing’s a bitch to adapt. The book’s almost all dialogue.”
“And movies are all pictures,” the director said, “no matter how bad they are. That’s the beauty of it. There’s stuff that happens in between the words – you just gotta read carefully. And all of that will be in the movie. It has to be because it’s all pictures. Even when it’s dialogue, it’s still pictures. Which is why we need Robert Mitchum because nobody holds a camera like Bob Mitchum.”
“Bob?” the producer said.
“We used to play bridge together,” the director said.
“Then why are you asking me to get him?” the producer said.
“Fine, we never played bridge together,” the director said. “Can you get him?
“Yeah, yeah. I think,” the producer said.
“It really is a great book,” the director said, “You have read it, haven’t you?”
“I’m writing the damn script,” the producer said.
“That doesn’t answer the question,” the director said.
“Stop busting my balls,” the producer said.
“But I like busting your balls,” the director said.
“I bet you do,” the producer said.
The director slammed back his beer in one swift motion. He leaned forward.
“Trust me, it’s gonna be a great movie,” the director said. “It can’t miss.”
“I know. But I worry,” the producer said. “That’s my job.”
“It’s gonna be a great movie,” the director said.
The critic adjusted his chair. He sipped his Diet Mountain Dew.
“It's a great movie,” the critic said. “A really great movie. And Robert Mitchum is the only one who could do it. He really holds the camera.”
The film is presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The anamorphic, progressive transfer is crisp with only minimal signs of damage. The film’s color palette is muted and the director approved transfer doesn’t tart it up, giving it just the right look to capture the grimy Boston underworld that provides the film’s setting.
The DVD is presented in Dolby Digital Mono. Nothing much to say here – crisp, clean, not too dynamic and not meant to be. Optional English subtitles support the English audio.
This is a nearly bare-bones Criterion release. The only extra is an audio commentary by director Peter Yates.
The insert booklet includes an essay by critic Kent Jones and Grover Lewis’s 1973 “Rolling Stone” profile of Robert Mitchum, compiled on the set of “Eddie Coyle.”
Like the George V. Higgins book, “The Friends of Eddie Coyle” is a lean, efficient crime drama, the kind of film that feels like it could only have been made during the '70s. Mitchum’s low-key performance as a total schlemiel is one of his finest. Contrast this with his phenomenal performances in movies like “Night of the Hunter” and “Cape Fear” and you’ll get an idea how much range this great and unique actor had.
Read the book. Watch the movie. You won’t regret either decision.