"Eddie doesn't rob banks...He's about this high in the bunch but he gets around more than any man I've ever seen," says Dave Foley (Richard Jordan), a baby-faced Boston cop about as amoral as the wiseguys he hunts. Eddie Coyle (Robert Mitchum) is a worn out, two-bit gunrunner. He provides untraceable revolvers when required. He draws the line at machine guns. Eddie is honorable in his way. He loves his family. He's just a low life who isn't all that shrewd. The fix he's in, because he can't take any more jail time, is what this superb Peter Yates' movie is all about.
"Look. I'm gettin' old, y'hear?" Eddie tells a young hood who deals in machine guns. "I spend most of my life hangin' around crummy joints with the punks drinkin' the beer, eatin' the hash an' hot dogs and watchin' the other people go off to Florida while I'm sweatin' how I'm goin' to pay the plumber. I done time when I stood up but I can't take no more chances. Next time it's goin' to be me goin' to Florida." Now he's facing more prison time for foolishly agreeing to drive a getaway car when he should have asked his friends some questions. He'll do just about anything to cut a deal for no jail time. He's nearly 50. He doesn't want his wife to go on welfare, doesn't want his three kids made fun of because their old man is doing time. He's squeezed by Dave Foley to inform...and Eddie decides he'll rat a little. He's too believing to understand he might be tagged for ratting big time. It's all betrayal, but Eddie doesn't really understand betrayal. All those friends of Eddie's make us wary every time we meet them: Scalise (Alex Rocco), who robs banks, sometimes violently; Jackie (Steve Keats), the dangerous dealer in stolen machine guns; Dillon (Peter Boyle), owner of a low-life bar who knows more about things than Eddie does.
The movie looks as hopeless as the Boston weather. It's the cold end of fall, filled with drab, chill days where parking lot asphalt is always wet. We're into Eddie's life in the low lane, where the anchors in the crummy strip malls are a tired Woolworth's and Barbo's Furniture Store. It's a lousy life and it belongs to Eddie Coyle. "Have a nice day."
Director Peter Yates sets up scenes -- an exchange of machine guns, a bank robbery, a family held hostage, a stakeout in a commuter train lot, a night on the town -- that are so naturally established that we might miss how skillfully they build the story and show us Eddie's life. We're never sure if things are as hopeless for Eddie as they seem. Yates keeps us on edge, and he adds layers of Eddie Coyle's sad and foolish trust.
This is one of Robert Mitchum's best performances. Mitchum still looks like he might be a tough guy, but his Eddie Coyle is a man who has had the force of his life wrung out of him. He's been in the life forever. He does the jobs others ask him to. He doesn't ask very many questions. He's just not smart enough. Mitchum takes all the hard edges off his usual persona and gives us an aging loser whose life is on the skids, and who doesn't understand just how badly off he is.
The Criterion release looks just fine. There is a commentary by Peter Yates.