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Film / The Friends of Eddie Coyle

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The Friends of Eddie Coyle is a 1973 crime thriller directed by Peter Yates, starring Robert Mitchum, Peter Boyle, and Alex Rocco. It is based on the book of the same name by George V. Higgins. It's based on the real activities of Whitey Bulger's Winter Hill gang, which later inspired The Departed.

Eddie Coyle (Mitchum) is an aging and low-level Boston gangster who is facing a robbery conviction. Desperate to avoid prison, Coyle works with ATF agent Dave Foley to rat out his criminal associates in the hopes that he can earn a lighter sentence. Can Coyle navigate both sides of the law to stay out of prison... and above ground?


Provides examples of:

  • The '70s: Plenty of big, heavy cars, thick turtleneck sweaters and NHL players with no helmets, as well as the porn groove-style soundtrack. Also, the prevalence of revolvers over automatic handguns.
  • '70s Hair: Obviously, given the time period.
  • Affably Evil: Most of the crooks in Coyle's circle have fairly mild personalities and are usually pretty friendly. Dillon stands out the most.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: Eddie Coyle is not a good guy, but it's still hard not to feel bad after watching him try desperately to escape his criminal life and ultimately getting nowhere other than dead.
  • The Alleged Car: The bank robber couple drive an old, primer-covered Grumman-Olson Kurbside van that has seen better days. They're probably living out of it.
  • All for Nothing: Coyle eventually gives up his friends, only to be told they've just been arrested during a robbery so his information is worthless.
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  • Anti-Hero: On top of being a crook, Coyle drops a casual n-bomb early in the film to let you know that he's not a good guy.
  • Arms Dealer: Jackie Brown deals in guns, which he purchases from various contacts and sells at a mark-up. He can even get you assault rifles, even though it's a life sentence in Massachusetts.
  • Artistic License – Cars: Jackie claims that his car has a 383 Hemi, but 383 engines are Magnums, not Hemis.
  • Artistic License – Military: Everyone in the film refers to M-16s as "machine guns," but M-16s are service rifles, while the term "machine gun" is limited to the kind of heavy support weapon designed for sustained fire from a mount or tripod.
  • Badass Driver: That unnamed cop in the maroon Ford Galaxie manages to knock Jackie Brown's Road Runner off course, get around in front of him, and block off the exit to the parking lot to end the pursuit all in a manner of seconds.
  • Badass Longcoat: Most of the robbers wear these, and even some of the characters when they're dressed normally.
  • Bank Robbery: The Scalise gang specializes in robbing banks by kidnapping a bank manager and holding his family hostage.
  • The Bartender: Dillon is one, when he's not murdering people and passing information to the ATF.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Jackie Brown and the Scalise gang have been caught, but Eddie Coyle, as worthless as he is, gets murdered, while Dillon and the hippie bank robbers get away scot free.
  • Boom, Headshot!: Eddie Coyle receives one of these in his sleep, courtesy of Dillon.
  • Can't Hold His Liquor: Eddie at the Bruins game. Subverted in that it's beer, and we dont see exactly how much he drinks. Nevertheless, he ends up drunk enough to let his guard down and pass out in the car after the game, which allows Dillon to casually reach over and shoot him in the head without any struggle.
  • The Caper: A large chunk of the first act follows the Scalise gang as they rob a bank.
  • Car Chase: Subverted. Jackie drives a very conspicuous muscle car throughout the film. When he peels out in response to police descending on his location, you'd expect a nice big car chase, but he collides with a cop in a Ford Galaxie, dodges several more cop cars as he barrels toward the exit, then gets boxed in by the exact same Galaxie, ending the chase in a matter of seconds.
  • Car Fu: As noted above, when Jackie realizes he's been set up and is about to be arrested, he attempts to take off quickly in his car. The ATF agents, however, are one step ahead of him and manage to block his escape by slamming into his vehicle with theirs multiple times, and he is busted before he can even get out of the parking lot.
  • Coats and Jackets: Being a gangster movie taking place in the cold climate of Massachusetts, everyone is wearing some kind of cool, masculine looking coat or jacket, often leather.
  • Conspicuous Trench Coat: The crews pulling the robberies usually wear these in the process.
  • Cool Car: Jackie Brown's canary-yellow 1971 Plymouth Road Runner. Not exactly subtle.
  • Cool Guns: Colt Pythons, M16s, 1911-style pistols, etc.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Probably most if not all of the characters, but Coyle's is mentioned specifically when he talks about having done prison time and having one of his hands maimed as punishment for screwing up, earning him the nickname "Fingers."
  • Didn't See That Coming: Eddie is hanging out and drinking with Dillon at a Boston Bruins game, and falls asleep in the car afterward. He never wakes up, due to Dillon murdering him with a close-up gunshot to the head while he's passed out.
  • Dirty Cop: Foley is definitely flirting with this, as he plays informants against each other and seemingly lets it go when Dillon kills Coyle.
  • Dramatic Irony:
    • Coyle speaks wistfully of the great future lying in store for a star Bruins player, little realizing that he has no future himself. The audience knows that he's about to be assassinated.
    • The man who carries out the hit on Coyle turns out to be an informant himself. When asked about Coyle's murder, he naturally claims to know nothing about it.
  • Every Scar Has a Story: Eddie "Fingers" Coyle tells Jackie Brown the story of how he got his nickname: by having a heavy drawer kicked shut on his hand, giving him "4 more knuckles."
  • Fair-Weather Friend: This is pretty much every guy in the movie. Eddie Coyle is the main example and 'protagonist,' but he's definitely not the only one who is trying to sell out others and save his own ass when he feels the walls closing in.
  • Family-Unfriendly Violence: Multiple bank managers' wives and children are held hostage at home during the bank robberies to force cooperation from the managers.
  • Family-Values Villain: Eddie's homelife appears very stable and almost picturesque. He has a simple house in the suburbs, a pleasant wife and kids, and does not have the look of a street level gangster at all.
  • The Film of the Book: A fairly close adaptation of the 1970 crime novel, which had come out only three years prior.
  • Fingore: Coyle describes how the mob will punish someone by making him place his hand in a drawer and then kicking it closed, breaking all of his fingers. This happened to Coyle himself, which is why he's called "Fingers." He claims to have four extra knuckles because of the incident.
  • The Ghost: "The Man" is the local crimelord. He's left unnamed and never appears on screen. We only see his go-between.
  • Happily Married: Coyle is married with three children. In spite of some morning grumpiness, his marriage is perfectly amicable.
  • Hockey Fight: Coyle and Dillon are watching a hockey game between the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks, and of course, a fight breaks out on the ice.
  • Hollywood New England: The movie takes place in and around Boston, with some scenes being shot in Weymouth, Dedham, Quincy and Sharon. Eddie and Dillon go to a Bruins hockey game in one of the final scenes.
  • Honor Before Reason: A bank worker at the second robbery hits the panic button and gets himself killed.
  • Horror Hippies: Pete and Andrea do have the look of flower children, but not the nice kind. They're hostile, foul-mouthed, and looking to buy M16s so they can rob banks.
  • Hot Blooded Sideburns: Sported by just about every male character.
  • Implied Death Threat: Eddie tells Jackie that he had better be at the agreed upon location, at the agreed upon time, with the guns Eddie needs, "...or I'm gona be looking for you. And I won't be the only one looking for you. And we know how to find people."
  • In-Series Nickname: Eddie "Fingers" Coyle, because his fingers were broken as a mob punishment.
  • The Informant:
    • Coyle is trying to sell his criminal connections to the ATF in a bid to avoid prison time.
    • Dillon is informing on various criminals to his ATF buddy Foley.
  • The Irish Mob: It's Boston in the 1970s, so the local mob is Irish. They're mostly off-screen, though. The only crooks we see are low-level affiliates and a single go-between who only refers to his boss as "the Man."
  • Karma Houdini: Dillon gets away with both informing on the Scalise gang and murdering Coyle. The hippie couple who want to buy assault rifles to rob banks also get away.
  • Malevolent Masked Men: The bank robbers wear different sets of masks during each robbery. The first are transparent masks that obscure their faces but aren't obvious as masks from a distance. The second are creepy-looking old-man masks. The third are simple balaclavas in red, white and blue.
  • Mexican Standoff: There is a brief one of these when Foley and the other agents surprise the gang as they're attempting to kidnap another bank manager. For a tense moment everyone in the room is holding guns, but the robbers think better of it, drop their weapons and surrender.
  • Nobody's That Dumb: Jackie is driving to a swap meet to buy guns, and starts getting very distrustful when the middleman instructs him to drive deep into the woods to meet the suppliers. "Look man, this life is hard, but it's harder if you're stupid!"
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed:
    • Dillon bares a strong resemblance to Whitey Bulger, who was also a federal informant, a freelance contract killer, and owned a bar through a front. Higgins denied the similarities were intentional, saying he "wrote about Dillon before Whitey became Whitey."
    • Eddie Coyle is a thinly-veiled Expy of William "Billy" O'Brien, one of Whitey Bulger's old bank-robbing associates who had been murdered in 1967. Like Coyle, O'Brien had just been arrested and the newspapers reported that O'Brien's associates were concerned that he might become a turncoat. Like Coyle, O'Brien's murder was never solved. However, radio host and crime writer Howie Carr claims that Coyle is based on Winter Hill gang co-leader Johnny Martorano, whom Mitchum socialized with during filming.
  • No Honor Among Thieves:
    • Even though Coyle is only facing two years, he's willing to drop a dime on all his criminal friends. His only concern is for his safety.
    • Jackie Brown is very paranoid about his clients and sources, fearing for good reason that they may try to rob or arrest him.
  • Only in It for the Money: Dillon plainly states he needs the cash ($20/week) he receives for informing on other gangsters.
  • Outlaw Couple: Pete and Andrea, a young couple, are trying to buy assault rifles to rob banks.
  • Overt Rendezvous: Foley meets with his informants in public places like Government Center, South Station, Boston Common and a couple of different bars and diners.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Make that villains. Eddie and Dillon both throw the N-word around without a thought.
  • Professional Killer: Dillon. We see him being ordered to kill Coyle, as well as the actual murder itself. He also names off a couple of other men he has already been paid to murder in the past.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Boston actually did have a serious problem with organized crime and specifically armed robberies in the 70s and 80s. James Bulger, the highest profile boss of the Irish mob in that region, was an FBI informant just like the characters in the film, and used that to protect himself from getting busted as well as to put his competitors out of business.
  • Rugged Scar: Coyle's hand was smashed by other gangsters as a sort of punishment, and it left him with disfigured knuckles and a new nickname: "Fingers."
  • Scylla and Charybdis: Eddie Coyle finds himself in a rather impossible predicament. His gang activity has put him in danger of facing prison time. To avoid that, he cooperates with the ATF, which puts him in danger of being killed by his gang associates. To make matters worse, after he's already become a rat, he's told that his information is no longer useful because the guys he's ratting on have already been busted. At that point, he's basically guaranteed to either be killed, or go to prison and be killed.
  • Senseless Sacrifice: The bank employee who trips the silent alarm and immediately gets smoked.
  • Skeleton Key Card: Just before Scalise and his guys are busted by the ATF agents, they use this technique to break into a bank manager's house.
  • The Sociopath: Yet another trope that fits just about every character. Hardly one man shows any consideration at all for another human being in the story. Nearly everything is done out of self interest and/or greed.
  • The Stool Pigeon: Both Eddie and Dillon. It doesn't help Eddie at all.
  • Too Dumb to Live: After being strongly advised by his manager to cooperate with the robbers, a basically suicidal bank employee decides to trip the silent alarm, right in front of one of the armed men. Predictably, the robber sees what he does and unloads on him right then and there.
  • Toothy Issue: Jackie has a pronounced gap between his front teeth. He's not a bad looking guy though and it kind of works for him, as this helps make his character one of the more memorable ones.
  • Twist Ending: Foley and Dillon are good friends, and Foley doesn't really care about Dillon's criminality.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Scalise has a much more attractive girlfriend, whom he flaunts and brags about to Coyle.
  • Villain Protagonist: One could argue that the movie focuses almost evenly on multiple characters. But if you go by the title, Coyle is the main character or protagonist. He's also a career criminal who has turned on his associates and is definitely not a good dude in general.
  • Would Hurt a Child: The heist crew break into bank managers' homes and hold their families as collateral, threatening to harm the children or the wives.
  • You Are Too Late: Eddie Coyle is frantically looking for bargaining chips to avoid prison, and offers to rat on Scalise's heist crew to Agent Foley. Unbeknownst to Coyle, the ATF already busted the guys the day before, nullifying Coyle's ability to redeem himself any further.