The Friends of Eddie Coyle (Criterion Collection)

1973, Rated R

The macho superstars of the 1950s and 1960s had a tough go of it in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Times were changing, they were too old for the hip youth culture of the New Hollywood and their kind of virile, iconic acting had lost favor for the more eccentric and idiosyncratic approaches of Dustin Hoffman, Jack Nicholson and Al Pacino. A few of the great actors, however, rose to the challenge — Brando in The Godfather and Last Tango in Paris, Burt Lancaster in The Swimmer and Robert Mitchum in The Friends of Eddie Coyle. The latter, a 1973 film only now getting released on DVD, is based on George V. Higgins’ novel about a small-time, amiable and mostly harmless Boston criminal being forced to inform on the Mob by heartless detectives who don’t really care if they get killed for snitching or not. As the beat-in, worldweary Coyle, Mitchum, in his late fifties, gives a casually poetic performance shrouded in existential sorrow. It wouldn’t be out of place in a Jim Jarmusch film; it prefigured Pacino in Donnie Brasco, and it’s one of his finest and wisest. Peter Yates’ film spends a lot of time on a young gun dealer (Steven Keats) who isn’t as interesting as Coyle, but it has the gritty, ultra-realistic naturalism that is what 1970s filmmaking was about at its best. Mitchum went on to some good performances in television and movies afterward, even appearing in a Jarmusch film (Dead Man), but was never this haunting — or haunted — again. Grade: A-

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