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This is a small and not too well-known crime drama, featuring a world-weary lead performance from the legendary Robert Mitchum. Mitchum is Eddie “Fingers” Coyle, a small-timer, living in Boston, trying to make ends meet. He’s done time upstate and is facing another 2-4 stint. Before his sentencing, Eddie spends his days buying guns from a fresh-faced dealer for the more legit and organized gangsters he works for.
In a wonderful early scene, Eddie sits down with the young gun-runner and we learn how he earned his nickname. The story he relates, involving having his hand slammed in a drawer, perfectly illustrates the world Coyle inhabits without any fancy tricks. It’s just two guys in a coffee shop, but the dialogue snaps, and Mitchum delivers the goods. From here, we’re treated to a couple of straightforward bank heists. Again, nothing too fancy, just some professional criminals calmly demanding money, threatening to kill the bank manager’s family. The scenes aren’t really suspenseful and they’re definitely not here for action. Eddie isn’t even a bank robber, but we do get to see what Eddie’s purchases are being used for.
We also learn about some of Eddie’s other friends. There’s the local barkeep, played by Peter Boyle. He seems to be on Eddie’s side, but also dabbles in illegal affairs. There’s also the lawman Eddie’s been meeting with trying to suss out ways to make his jail time go away. Eddie might be a nobody, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t know a thing or two. He knows he can’t afford to get locked up again, and that the dirt he has on some of his “friends” could keep him a free man, and as one character puts it, “This life’s hard, man. But it’s harder if you’re stupid!”
The rest of the movie focuses on what Eddie will do, but there’s a lot more time spent on setting and character than most films of the genre. There’s a great sense of time and place, all of the characters come off feeling like real hard-scrabble people and not just wise-cracking caricatures. Unfortunately, the director, Peter Yates (The Dresser, Breaking Away), is a little too subdued for the material. The film has no real punch to it, especially near the end when it needed it the most.
Even if it doesn’t electrify, this is still a forgotten gem worth seeking out if only for Mitchum’s worn down performance.