The Friends of Eddie Coyle (Yates, 1973)

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The Friends of Eddie Coyle displays a criminal world so fragile, so unassuming, it’s shocking when someone finally gets murdered. But this makes the film’s sideways universe of low-level robbers and arms dealers incredibly deceptive, a place where criminal professionalism is slowly becoming extinct and survival ranks supreme. Director Peter Yates carefully develops this space by tracking multiple players as they secretly angle for an edge. Robert Mitchum plays Eddie, an aging small time criminal who faces a 3-5 stretch in prison for a botched smuggling assignment, a job he filled in for Dillon (Peter Boyle), a shady bartender doing double-duty as a hit man and a FED stool pigeon. Yates keeps these characters apart for most of the film, connecting them through their separate interactions with Foley (Richard Jordan), a manipulative Treasury agent playing each for maximum leverage, while charting their involvement in a string of local bank robberies. Yates’ film has many moving parts, each scene playing like a unique dusty vignette of seventies crime cinema. No character stays in one place very long, and it’s this restlessness that comes to define the title’s tragic irony. In Yates’ vision, friendship is an illusion only the desperate and worried latch onto, while the impersonal and corrupt dealings of a younger generation eliminate the once sacred code of conduct between criminals. If there ever was one in the first place.

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