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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » The Friends of Eddie Coyle (Blu-ray)
The Friends of Eddie Coyle (Blu-ray)
Criterion // R // April 28, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Oktay Ege Kozak | posted April 16, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

A cocky young criminal, a gun dealer, sits across from a grizzled old man in order to talk out the details of a deal. The old man wants guns for a bank job, he looks weathered, exhausted, this life has obviously taken its toll on him. Upon hearing the young criminal repeat over and over again that the transaction will take place without a hitch while seeing the obvious uncertainty in his eyes, the old man regales him with a story from his past. He asks him to look at his knuckles, of which he seems to have an extra set. He once screwed up a job and paid the price by having his hands shut inside a drawer. "There's nothing personal in it, you understand", his punishers assured him, "But it just has to be done".

The old man is Eddie Coyle (Robert Mitchum), a career criminal and loyal friend to the Boston crime world. He doesn't live the extravagant life of crime that Tony Montana and Tony Soprano enjoy. He's just like any other working class stiff in the twilight of his life, worn out and resigned to the cruelties of life, looking forward to the retirement that he deserves after a lifetime full of pain and grief. He doesn't live in a gaudy mansion on top of a hill, surrounded by guards and security cameras. He's holed up in a tiny apartment where his only solace is the love that he still feels for his wife, who looks more like a high school lunch lady than early 80s Michelle Pfeiffer.

But the crime world is not like a country club where one can merely cancel one's membership. Eddie has to keep paying to the powers that be with his soul, and the tab is far from being closed. He has to run guns for a gang of bank robbers while doing anything he can do avoid jail time after getting pinched. Does he rat on his friends and risk getting killed, or live the rest of his days behind bars?

The beauty in director Peter Yates' approach to adapting Boston crime writer George V. Higgins' novel, the essential element that turns The Friends of Eddie Coyle into a unique and powerful crime drama, is the brutally honest de-romanticizing of crime life. As far as heist movies are concerned, this is as dry and procedural as it gets. There are no elaborate shootouts or car chase scenes, there's very little graphic violence, and the most tense sequences involve two regular-looking men sitting across from each other, discussing the minute details of their jobs.

Yet it's more thrilling and engaging than ninety-nine percent of action fare centered on spiffy, high-tech bank robberies that predictably end in extended shootout sequences. That's because Yates manages to tap into the grimy ugliness of a life that can only end in pointless tragedy. Through the many natural performances, led by one of the greatest and most underrated turns in Mitchum's legendary career, we care about the characters and personally identify with their decisions. When Coyle begs for a second chance after being manipulated by an opportunistic cop who sees him as nothing but a disposable piece in a much larger game, we understand and relate to his desperation.

It's obvious that many crime dramas borrowed heavily from The Friends of Eddie Coyle. More action packed films like The Town and Point Break obviously took a lot of cues from it. Hell, I don't think it's a stretch to say that Michael Mann owes half his filmography to Yates' crime masterpiece. Yates' assured and highly calculated direction, as well as the way he takes full advantage of Boston's drab fall time locations drenched in grays and browns, creates a unique cinematic experience that's yet to be replicated.

The Blu-ray:

Video:

Criterion's pitch perfect 1080p transfer is the closest you will get to the experience of watching The Friends of Eddie Coyle during its first theatrical run in 1973. The presentation is very clean and crisp, yet holds a healthy amount of grain while staying loyal to the film's grim color palette. The Friends of Eddie Coyle is a very dry film for a purpose. The point is not to visually dazzle the audience, but to bring them into the ugly and paranoid world that the characters inhabit. Criterion knows this, and brings a transfer that doesn't attempt to give the film's distinct style an artificially attractive look.

Audio:

We get yet another amazing Linear PCM 1.0 mono presentation from Criterion. Even though the audio comes only out of the center channel, it has more clarity and depth than many contemporary DTS-HD 7.1 tracks. The Friends of Eddie Coyle is a dialogue-heavy affair, yet the subtle sound work is essential to its enjoyment. In that sense, Criterion passes with flying colors. Don't be upset that you won't be able to hear Dave Grusin's groovy score through your surround speakers, the mono presentation more than does the trick.

Extras:

Commentary by Peter Yates: Yes, I understand that it might be somewhat unfair to be asked to pay the full Criterion price for a Blu-ray that comes with only a commentary and some stills. But the film itself is more than worth it, and this is one of the best commentaries you'll find anywhere. Even though he was very old when he recorded the commentary in 2009, Peter Yates is very lucid and informative as he covers every aspect of the production from the location shoots to his experience working with Mitchum.

We also get a Stills Gallery full of pictures from the production, as well as a thick booklet with an essay by Kent Jones.

Final Thoughts:

The Friends of Eddie Coyle is a thoughtful and smart classic that should adorn the Blu-ray shelf of every fan of crime dramas. If you'd like to hear me discuss the film in further detail, you can listen to an episode of Over/Under Movies, a podcast I co-host with two other film critics where we discuss one overrated and one underrated movie per episode. In this episode, The Friends of Eddie Coyle is of course our underrated pick. You can listen to the episode by clicking here. The Friends of Eddie Coyle discussion begins at the 37-minute mark.

Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com

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