Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Friends of Eddie Coyle

A couple of weeks back I almost had to kick Elmore Leonard out of the lobby at work for smoking. His son Peters beat me to the punch and wrangled him out the door. They were appearing with fellow Michigan writer Loren D Estleman to talk about crime fiction. One of the topics of their event was that the film The Friends of Eddie Coyle getting released on DVD and how it was one of the best crime films ever made. I had never seen the film and it went into my Netflix Queue as soon at I got home.

The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973)
Robert Mitchum stars as Eddie Coyle a low level criminal who mostly deals in buying and selling guns. He's been busted driving a truck of stolen booze, refused to give up the guys behind the theft of the booze on the truck and is looking at some jail time for his silence. He doesn't think that he can do the time, it's not the Pen that he's worried about, it's his family. He doesn't want them to have to go on welfare, or for his wife to have to work while he is away. He's trying to get out from under as easily as possible, looking for cop Richard Jordan (who I think is a Fed, but it's really never made explicit) to help him out and speak to the judge in the case, but he needs to watch which bridges he burns if he wants to keep on breathing. Here is the trailer

Set and shot in the Boston area the film has a great and real look, no back lot and sound stage stuff here. The location not only geographically but the location in time is really showcased well . The clothes, cars, hair styles and guns were all current in a real way, not in a Hollywood perfect upper middle class way that too many films suffer from.

Boston looks like a city on it's way down, we don't see the ghetto or the inner city and drug culture Apocalypse of the 70s is really missing from the film. One of the strangest things about the film is that lack of overt drug crime, it's as if it wasn't part of what was going down, but I'm left thinking it's more that Eddie is an old timer who's crime world was pre-big time heroin and he had mostly managed to keep it that way.

One thought that I had watching the film was that the cars have more color and pop to them than the clothes. I have vague memories of the earthtone blahs of that era, and this film really showed what that was like. The bars, coffee shops, the parking garages and the shopping centers are all a blast from the past and several of the shots of these places reminded me of films that came later. A shot of Mitchum driving his boat of a car though a new cement slab parking structure to the top made me think of Fargo for instance.

Mitchum is at his best here, this is the older and more world weary Mitchum. Gone is the evil psycho of Night of the Hunter, or the anti hero of Thunder Road (there is a nod of sorts to that film early on), this is the worn down and aging family man who has more to think about than getting a few bucks and a few laughs. His aging is made more dramatic by the distance in time that I have from the film, seeing his youthful co-stars. A young looking Peter Boyle, Richard Jordan, not to mention Alex Rocco all of whom I recall from films and TV made a decade or more later. It's been said that this is Mitchums greatest performance, and I have to agree. He's very natural, very solid and understated.

I like the fact that there is an oblique quality to the film, not everything is spelled out and neatly wrapped up. There is no closure on a couple of plot points, there is no big explanation for how somethings come down. A young gun dealer is arrested and we never see him again, the kids who wanted to buy guns from him to rob banks drive away and never are seen again. I can't imagine modern film makers getting away with that--- unless it's the Coen Bros--- and even the end of the film has questions left unanswered.

It's a great film from a great era of film, one that I am going to have to watch again, and would love to see on the big screen.


Paul Brazill said...

On ef my faves.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Just got my copy from Netflix!