Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Robert Mitchum, Peter Boyle, Richard Jordan, Steven Keats, Alex Rocco
Director: Peter Yates
Audio: Dolby Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Criterion
Features: See Review
Length: 102 Minutes
Release Date: May 19, 2009

“I should’ve known better than to trust a cop. My own g**damn mother could’ve told me that.”

“Everybody ought to listen to his mother.”

Film ****

For 36 years, The Friends of Eddie Coyle has been completely unavailable to the public. As far as I know, reasons for this aren’t entirely clear. But the bottom line is Criterion has finally brought this acclaimed crime film to DVD, and having finally seen it, I can certainly say its long awaited arrival is a cause for celebration.

Other than The Departed, there hasn’t been a richer, tense and all around brilliant depiction about the line that separates cops from criminals, not to mention one set in Boston. I didn’t even know Peter Yates was the director of the film. It’s interesting that this was released the same year as Martin Scorsese’s breakthrough film, Mean Streets, because the English filmmaker managed to make a piece that equals the authenticity of a great Scorsese film about the criminal life.

At the heart of the film lies a monumental performance from Robert Mitchum, who brings a unique form of subtlety to the kind of role that you wouldn’t normally expect to find such a quality, especially from an actor known for his tough guy roles. It’s just a shame that Mitchum wasn’t even recognized with an Oscar nomination for his work here. What’s even more unfortunate is the mere fact that fans of his haven’t been able to discover this performance due to its unavailability, because I honestly think it might just be the finest performance of the actor’s career.

What’s most invigorating about the film, an adaptation of the novel by George V. Higgins, is the way it places the viewer right in the environment of unsavory characters and their daily doings. There are numerous points where it doesn’t even feel scripted, but rather so incredibly authentic that you’d swear these events are really going down. Not that I would know about how the way criminals interact with one another, but I’m willing to bet Yates and screenwriter Paul Monash, or possibly novelist Higgins, did a good bit of research.

Eddie Coyle (Mitchum) is a veteran mid level hood who is both smart and flawed. A long time gun dealer, he’s always been careful in who he associates himself with in terms of buying and selling his particular product. His only concern in life is to make some desperate cash for his family, should something ever happen to him.

But even a pro makes mistakes, and Eddie’s biggest mistake was getting caught transporting stolen goods in New Hampshire, which he is about to stand trial for. Desperate for a way out of jail, Eddie reluctantly becomes a snitch for the Boston police. The idea hits Eddie when doing a deal with gun runner Jackie Brown (Steven Keats), who promises to deliver 30 stolen guns for Eddie’s bank robbing associates.

It is this bit of information that Eddie decides to pass along to Treasury agent Dave Foley (Richard Jordan). He’s worked with Foley on past occasions, but has never delivered a tip off of this magnitude. It does lead to a successful bust, with Eddie hoping that Foley will put in a good word to the New Hampshire prosecutor, in return.

Another character that figures into the story is Dillon (Peter Boyle), a bartender who works the bar where Eddie and his bank robbing friends always meet. He is considered to be a friend of Eddie’s as well. However, as the film brilliantly illustrates, the word “friend” has very little meaning in the criminal lifestyle.

Peter Yates has labeled The Friends of Eddie Coyle as one of the three best films he’s ever directed, along with Breaking Away and The Dresser, and it’s easy to see why. It was a film that was so ahead of its time when released, and 36 years and one long awaited DVD release later, this critically praised but barely seen masterpiece is finally here and can finally be seen as a true film classic of the 1970s. The acting, the script and the directing are about as brilliant in quality as any single film could hope to have.

Video ***

I’m all too happy that Criterion handled this release, because otherwise we would be getting a not so hot looking presentation. Criterion worked their usual magic by incorporating a digital transfer from a 35mm interpositive and color reversal right from the original negative. Though the anamorphic picture does have some bits of grain here and there, so much dirt and grain has been removed. And since the only other means of seeing this film has been on television, you’re getting the flat out best looking presentation of the film to ever be crafted. An all around superb job of mastering an early 70s pic.

Audio ***

Criterion remains the only DVD studio to make the most out of a Dolby Mono track, which is definitely the case for this release. Much like the picture transfer, flaws in the audio were reduced in the sound transfer. Dialogue delivery is amazingly clear, and the score by Dave Grusin sounds quite tremendous. All in all, a great job of making an early 70s release sound as good as new.

Features ***

With this release, Criterion demonstrates that with the extras, it isn’t quantity but quality that counts. We get a phenomenal and thoroughly informative commentary with director Peter Yates, a production stills gallery and probably the single best insert booklet Criterion has included with any of their releases. It is 48 pages long and includes a new essay by film critic Kent Jones and a 1973 on-set profile of Robert Mitchum from Rolling Stone.


Criterion’s masterful job in finally making The Friends of Eddie Coyle available on DVD is a cause for celebration, because this mostly unseen film is a masterpiece of its time period in American cinema. Fans of Robert Mitchum and avid DVD collectors should not hesitate at all to add this brilliant film to their collection.

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