April 24, 2010

FRIENDS LIKE HIS:

Down and Out in Boston: You must read (and watch) Eddie Coyle. (Troy Patterson, April 22, 2010, Slate)

This is the stuff of a great genre novel, though it's not exactly clear what that genre is. Eddie Coyle fluidly combines elements of a procedural and a thriller, of suspense and social realism. What it isn't is a Chandler-type mystery novel about a sleuth battling his own cynicism. Here, the sleuthing remains in the background, like a surveillance van, and the cynicism is a precondition of existence. Further, most hard-boiled classics allow their villains only so much time to talk, while this one gets its ripe flavor from their dialogue—tough talk, dumb bluffs, weaseling hedges, empty promises, pungent shoptalk, and by-the-by marital complaints.

To hear that dialogue crash and flow, check out director Peter Yates' 1973 film adaptation of the book. Recently available from the Criterion Collection, it stars Robert Mitchum in the title role, meaning that he's not a hero, not even an anti-hero, just a victim of circumstance. As A.O. Scott said last month in a Critics' Pick Video at nytimes.com, Coyle is "almost like a secondary character in his own movie."

That movie is an exemplar of the art of adaptation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 24, 2010 4:55 PM
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