DVDs for 5/19/09 – Eddie Coyle, True Blood, Liberty Valance and more

Eddie Coyle - with friends like these...
Eddie Coyle - with friends like these...

The Friends of Eddie Coyle (Criterion), adapted from the terrific novel by George V. Higgins and produced in the wake of The French Connection, is probably the least heralded crime movie classic of the seventies. Robert Mitchum is Eddie ‘Fingers’ Coyle, a middleman working the fringes of the Boston underworld while waiting sentencing, which prompts him into a little side-action turning informer for a real wheeler-dealer of a detective (Richard Jordan in a pitch perfect performance). Director Peter Yates finds the perfect pace for the film, never pushing the action, never forcing the tension, letting it all play out – and finally unravel – at the same pace that his characters live off the job. The characters are vivid without being eccentric, Peter Boyle is as forthright as he is impenetrable as a bartender with his fingers in plenty of schemes and Mitchum is at his best as a tired professional still hustling because it’s all he knows. Shot in that distinctive mix of location naturalism and matter-of-fact criminal activity that defined so many such films of the early seventies, Eddie Coyle lays bare the food chain of the criminal underworld, from the robbers to the gun suppliers and all the middlemen in between, including the stool pigeons. This is the first film I can think of since Pickup on South Street that portrays the informer not just in a sympathetic light but as a natural, inevitable part of the social order. Criterion’s disc features newly-recorded commentary by an aged Peter Yates and a booklet.

True Blood (HBO), a southern gothic story of vampires in the bayou and vampire rights on the cultural radar, is the closest that HBO has come to creating a buzz show since The Sopranos and Six Feet Under (and even The Wire) ended their respective runs. Adapted from the novels by Charlaine Harris and developed for HBO by Alan Ball, it stars Anna Paquin as Sookie Stackhouse, a roadhouse waitress who can read minds (and believe me, there’s nothing going on in their small, petty minds that she wants to hear), and Bill Compton as a vampire who, like the rest of the undead nation, has come out of the closet with the invention of synthetic blood. This is a sexy show, to be sure, but it’s also primal and feral (the humans as much as the vamps) and mix of prejudice and predators and cultural color gives it plenty to chew on. The season finale cliffhanger is a playful kicker. 12 episodes on five discs in a hefty, heavyweight foldout digipak in an equally sturdy slipsleeve. “Six Feet Under was all about repression,” explains Alan Ball in the commentary to the pilot episode. “To me, this show is all about the mess of nature and emotions and intimacy.” Various directors and cast members chime on five other commentary tracks.
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