Laced with a fatalism as romantic as its Beantown milieu is damp and grungy, The Friends of Eddie Coyle (based on George V. Higgins’ best-seller) affords Robert Mitchum a world-weary role that both hews to – and yet evocatively undercuts – his legendary tough-guy persona. In a manner somewhat akin to Clint Eastwood’s reevaluation of his iconic killing-machine roles in Unforgiven, Mitchum slides comfortably into the guise of Eddie Coyle, a married-with-children weapons dealer who’s looking for an opportunity to avoid an upcoming prison sentence (which he dubs “that thing in New Hampshire”). Achieving that end involves becoming an informant for cop Foley (Richard Jordan), even as he continues to work for crook Dillon (Peter Boyle) and with machine gun-procuring Jackie (Steven Keats) in order to provide firearms to Jimmy (Alex Rocco) and his gang of masked bank robbers. With allegiances split and prospects dim, Coyle proceeds while enshrouded in such a heavy cloak of doom that, courtesy of director Peter Yates’ sterling direction – which generates immense tension from patient staging and lingering close-ups on Mitchum’s morose countenance – there’s a pervasive sense of drowning in quicksand. “With friends like these…” is the film’s titular joke, as Coyle’s pals – whose own machinations are given as much screen time as the star – are a motley bunch for whom deception, treachery and brutality are as natural as breathing. Even more than Yates’ depiction of his New England environment or his superbly understated supporting cast, though, it’s Mitchum, his downturned eyes and gruff comportment speaking volumes about Coyle’s outlook on his chances of escape, who embodies this circle-of-crime saga’s hopelessness.