The Friends of Eddie Coyle is based on a novel by George V. Higgins, published three years earlier in 1970. It was his first book, and there are those who think that in his long career he never surpassed it. The film was directed by Peter Yates, a Briton who had previously directed two other crime films, Robbery (very British) and Bullitt (very American), to great acclaim. He does an equally good job here.
Robert Mitchum is at his best in the role of Eddie Coyle. This is not Mitchum at his most menacing, but a rather nuanced performance of a low-level criminal, a gun-runner who works for the Irish Mob in Boston. He's at risk of going jail, and so he turns informer. But of course, where the Mob are concerned, informing is a very dangerous game. Can he stay one step ahead of the police and the criminals?
Coyle supplies a gang of bank robbers with guns, and the robbers use their weapons to take hostages. We see two robberies in some detail. The first goes to plan, but the second goes awry, with fatal results. This has consequences for the gang members and also for Eddie Coyle.
Coyle is giving information to Dave Foley (played by Richard Jordan), a cop who also has a relationship with Dillon (Peter Boyle), who runs a bar and is a hit man on the side. The relationships between the key characters is reveled in laconic dialogue - dialogue-writing was Higgins' great strength, and Paul Monash's script does his book justice. The New York Times said this is a 'good, tough, unsentimental movie', and that sums it up perfectly.