Welcome to The Wright Stuff, our weekly column following the career of Raptors point guard Delon Wright. Since we can’t influence his training or anything on the court, we’ll recommend films that reflect his past week and hopefully inspire a leap forward. It’ll be part film breakdown, part essay, and part whatever loose piece of wisdom we can shake from the experience.
The week was not going Delon’s way. Same thing for the Raptors. The team started with a disappointing loss against the undermanned Boston Celtics — one that saw Terry Rozier go buck, Aron Baynes hit a pair of 3s, and Marcus Morris look like the NBA’s future. It was rough to watch, is my point.
We don’t even need to rehash the Cleveland Cavaliers game, except to say that LeBron James still seems to loom over everything the Raptors and Delon do. James can just sort of lurk there, toying with the game, and then emerging when least expected to remind us all, oh yeah, he’s the best player in the world. It was also rough to watch.
But there was a ray of sunshine at the end. It came through in an odd way, and was powered by a few sources — not least of which was Wright’s wild 8-9-8 stat line, with two blocks and two steals for good measure. The Raptors got to put a beatdown on the Celtics one more time, got to re-assert themselves one more time in the economy of the Eastern Conference. Got to say, here, we did this; no matter what else, it’s done.
It’s not going out on a limb to suggest that director Peter Yates’ The Friends of Eddie Coyle is one of the realest, if bizarrely diffuse, crime movies ever made. The title sets the stage in two ways: first, obviously, is the story of Eddie Coyle, lifelong Boston hood, a man with hands broken by the business; second, come the friends, a cadre of stoolies, bartenders, dealers, cops, and robbers, all swarming around beyond his periphery.
I say the film is real because everyone in it feels like they just walked in front of a camera — even big movie stars like Robert Mitchum as Coyle, and recognizable character actors like Peter Boyle. And I say the film is bizarrely diffuse because, well, it is. It opens on a bunch of no-name criminals surveilling a bank manager; it has time for a gunrunner named Jackie Brown and his side deals with some militant hippies; and we watch the oblique conversations between a bartender named Dillon (Boyle) and an interested FBI man named Foley (Richard Jordan). All of these men are aware of each other in some way or another, even if they almost always refer to people, places, and things as, uh, that guy, the place, and the thing — y’know, in case anyone is listening. If you’re a character coming out of a George V. Higgins novel, that’s just how it works. It’s also the challenge of adapting Higgins’ writing, which is just pages of dense and lively dialogue, all matter-of-fact, all straight from the streets, and all working to layer together the world in which these men operate. See? Diffuse, but real.
Make no mistake though, in all that criminal machinery, Mitchum is still the star. He was a haggard looking man by then — despite having another 25 years of acting in him — but his voice remains as sonorous and resonant as ever. His Coyle is an old man too, one who’s been running around the Boston underworld for so long he can hardly tell what the sun looks like anymore. In the moment, Coyle is due up for sentencing, three to five years hanging over his head; it’s time he just can’t do. Of course, it also doesn’t stop him from getting involved as a go-between for the aforementioned robbers and gunrunner. But when Coyle decides later the information he’s gaining may be more valuable than the money he’s earning, well then, hard choices have to be made — by Eddie, and his friends.
All of the pieces in The Friends of Eddie Coyle fit together like this, in ways that both make sense, in a big picture sense, and don’t. Only the viewer sees it all, but then again: not really. The film is but an hour and 42 minutes long, and it feels like everyone involved simply walked off the set and back into the life, their life, whatever it was. That kind of realness has a value, even if its reality ultimately proves to be unsatisfying.
This was becoming the noir portion of the Raptors season, when the good vibes curdled into bad, and we began crying to the heavens about the seemingly ill-fated direction of the team. The book is out on Toronto, they say; we, the team and city, are supposed to fold under the pressure. That’s just the way it is. And we’re not ever supposed to truly understand why.
If the Raptors had lost to Boston yesterday, this column would likely end on a different note. I’d be comparing Delon Wright to poor Eddie Coyle, the old criminal who thought he had the skills and know-how to keep himself out of jail and out of trouble. Things just don’t work out for Coyle though. Meanwhile, after that bounce back game from the Raptors, maybe things will work out for Delon. At least for a time. At least until the next time the Raps go down swinging — against LeBron? The Warriors? The Rockets? Who knows.
So then, maybe Delon gets to be Dillon the bartender this week. In the film, Boyle plays Dillon like a man in the know who looks and moves like he’s too slow to really do anything about it. People trust him, he pours the beer, and that’s the end of the story. It just turns out, as the film reveals, not to be the whole story. Dillon’s got some craft to him, and so does Delon. Both may not escape their fate forever, but for now they get to live and compete another day.