Along with Who’ll Stop the Rain and Charley Varrick, I first saw The Friends of Eddie Coyle on late-night TV when I was ten or eleven. It would be another twenty-five years before I got ahold of the film again. Watching it recently reminded me why I loved this period of filmmaking. The film is pitch-black, and I don’t think I’m giving too much away when I call it a feel-bad masterpiece.
A proven master of the heist after Robbery and Bullitt, director Peter Yates claimed his crown as a king of the crime film with The Friends of Eddie Coyle. If the first two films in his modernist-crime-film playbook are driven by immediate action and car chases, Coyle is fueled by looming threats and the potential for violence. We've seen the following robbery play out successfully once before, but we know to never push a good thing.
There’s nothing flashy here, just tension. The direction is spare and it’s as cold as concrete. Through the observational style, we forget that, inevitably, the world in which these characters operate is chaotic. Everything seems so reasonable and certain, every word and action measured, but there is always a wild beast waiting to be unleashed, so that all these measures and controls are for nothing.