Monday, July 20, 2009

Film Review: THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE (1973, Peter Yates)

Stars: 4.5 of 5.
Running Time: 102 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Robert Mitchum, Peter Boyle, Steven Keats, Richard Jordan. Cinematography by Victor J. Kemper (DOG DAY AFTERNOON, CLUE, XANADU, HUSBANDS).
Tag-lines: "It's a grubby, violent, dangerous world. But it's the only world they know. And they're the only friends Eddie has."
Best Mitchum lament: "Look, I'm gettin' old, you hear? I spent most of my life hanging around crummy joints with a buncha punks drinkin' the beer, eatin' the hash and the hot dogs and watchin' the other people go off to Florida while I'm sweatin' out how I'm gonna pay the plumber. I done time and I stood up but I can't take no more chances. Next time, it's gonna be me goin' to Florida."

Something happens early on in THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE that nearly caused me to fall out of my chair. Bob Mitchum opened his mouth, and something approximating a Boston accent came out. Mitchum's one of the greatest actors of all time, but when he worked on a movie, his attitude generally fell between "doesn't give a shit" and "hardly gives a shit."

But doing an accent?! That's going above and beyond- that means he might have felt strongly about the material- (well, as strongly as Mitchum can feel about these things). So if a film can command Mitchum's respect, then, by God, you'd better sit up straight, sober up, and give this your full and honest attention.

Directed by Peter "BULLITT" Yates, EDDIE COYLE takes aim at genre convention. 'We gotta have action! Gotta have CAR CHASES!' Nope, it's a somber character study. A melancholy look at the everyday goings-on of those who choose to partake in this 'left-handed' form of human endeavor. It has far more in common with a film by Antonioni or Jacques Becker than a genre pic. 'But, wait, I wanted explosions! One-liners!' How about just Bob Mitchum sitting at a barstool, thinking about his life: that pretty much beats the shit out of any action sequence I can think of.

There's heaps of reasons to love this film: the beautiful, immersive atmosphere of Boston in late autumn; Steven Keats' smarmy Jackie Brown ("This life's hard, man, but it's harder if you're stupid!"); Richard Jordan's pithy, no-frills cop; Peter Boyle's loathsome, sad sack bartender; Mitchum's explanation of what happened to his knuckles as a master's class in acting; that bank robbery scene we've all seen a thousand times made fresh and taut... the list is nearly endless. And it's all there in Mitchum's rumpled eyes. What once indicated disinterest and badassery now merely observes, pensively. With crestfallen passivity, Mitchum awaits his turn, his moment, his Florida retirement. And he waits. And waits...

-Sean Gill

No comments: