Monday, August 3, 2009

The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973)

By Eric Jessen 7/31/09

Robert Mitchum seems as if he's carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders at all times: towering, intimidating, yet his drooping eyes cowering, repressing his innermost thoughts, letting out only baritone mumbles, the nuances of his face revealing exhaustion, weariness, and vulnerability. In the Friends of Eddie Coyle, Mitchum is given the perfect character in the perfect setting. Eddie Coyle is Robert Mitchum. Early 1970's Boston is Eddie Coyle, which is Robert Mitchum. They are dissipated voids, latching on to tired conventions, appearing calm, safe and under control, but masking utter confusion.
Robert Mitchum as Eddie Coyle saunters and smirks, puckers his lips, rolls his eyes, sits alone always seeming to loathe company. When joined, he speaks only when spoken to, replying with short vague answers, either out of breath or unsure of what to say, sometimes responding swiftly as if he's trying to end the conversation as fast as possible, sometimes waiting and waiting as if the conversation comes second to his thoughts. He never shows the want, only the bitter need, always acting like he was forced to talk, or work, or live. Eddie Coyle is a simple hoodlum, past his prime, decaying, ready to hang it up, ready to deal. After a lifetime of small, petty thefts, working up to escape (to Florida), he sinks and sinks into insignificance. Caught in a trial, facing a few years in prison, Coyle struggles with the idea of ratting on his friends to save his hide. He's an old school gentleman's crook, attached to Boston, relying on friends, lost among drugs, feds, machine guns in a world where everyone is guilty and everyone rats.
Eddie is broken and battered, peddling dozens of stolen guns, walking over, sitting down and looking a federal agent in the eye, his way of begging to bargain out of trouble. At first he tries to be clever, only giving the agent information that he knows is useless (informing him of a robbery that is minutes from occurring), but by the end when he is most desperate Coyle is forced to break his only rule, to never give up friends.
Eddie is a stranger in a new world of crime. Mitchum is an actor, born and bred in an era of westerns, hunks, and film noir, now an oddity, washed-up, old cheese, among hippies and new wave, fast pace film making. Although forever under-appreciated, he is the heart and soul of all his movies: fascinating, merciful, with extraordinary depth. The Friends of Eddie Coyle, is tempered, cool, smooth, methodical, not exciting but extremely engrossing simply because of Robert Mitchum. I could watch The Friends of Eddie Coyle hundreds of times, over and over again just to study Mitchum. He has the most interesting face I've seen in the movies.
Robert Mitchum is perfectly placed in an early 70's Boston fall: a distressed city, a hot spot for racism and prejudice, yet blooming, colorful leaves, a beautiful backdrop, people letting out pent up anger and tension at Bruins games.
Eddie Coyle, Robert Mitchum move through the Boston streets, the wind blowing in their face, with a nonchalance, hurt, slowly dying, fading, but in a confident comfortable unison.

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