Robert Mitchum did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying the titular Eddie "Fingers" Coyle in The Friends of Eddie Coyle.
Robert Mitchum plays the lead role of Eddie Coyle, though this is technically a smaller leading role, he's lead but the film spends ample time with the other people within the crime world Eddie is associated with. Mitchum though is the center point for a reason in his depiction of Eddie Coyle, which is a performance that must be stated that it is brilliant from the get go then dissect why. Again Robert Mitchum is not constantly front and center in the film, and what he does is so much within his performance it is something truly remarkable. Now in Mitchum first scene we have him meet one of his first associates and it's incredibly what Mitchum does here. Mitchum very much embraces his age in the role, and never tries to hide it. In fact he quite embraces, amplifying it even by wearing these hard years within himself. He doesn't create a falsehood in this regard, as he does not attempt to try to show this old timer whose really tougher than all these young ins, which I'm sure Mitchum could have pulled off. Mitchum though instead far more effectively reveals who Eddie is, which is an old manstill in the criminal life.
Mitchum just is this old Boston crook, with a great Boston accent by the way, and takes it so much further from there. In that initial scene, although his face says the truth, now Mitchum shows Eddie's attempt to be more than he is but it is only an attempt. As he describes where his little moniker comes from there is this strained attempt at being some man he may have been in the past, or might not have been in reality. There's a real sadness hidden within Mitchum's work as he attempts to express this confidence of real tough within a man who has lived a hard life yet that is still meaningless within the world he lives in. Mitchum never focuses upon a single emotion and that is part of the incredible nuance in his performance though. As even in this exchange with one of his associates, even as he's trying to act tough in a way, Mitchum though even conveys just the right bit of history with still the right kind of comfort speaking to someone who he's known for awhile, he realizes this aspect so well throughout the film with every one of Eddie's "friends".
Mitchum creating the actual sense of any camaraderie to the other criminals he associates with is pivotal since it makes the story all the crueler for Eddie. The reason for that being that Eddie is an informant, aiding ATF agent Dave Foley (Richard Jordan) in taking down his various friends in an attempt to try to avoid his prison sentence of at least two years. Mitchum is amazing in the role though in every one of his scenes with Jordan because of how much he reveals about in Eddie in these scenes. As when it seems like Foley might be able to help him Mitchum projects a pride in Eddie, putting up again a certain front to try to be more than he is. Mitchum though again creates a duality in this as there is a weakness in this pride, the effort behind that can be felt which is purposeful in Mitchum's work. As Mitchum shows Eddie basically trying to convince himself he's doing the right thing by giving these bits of information out, Mitchum manages to create empathy within Eddie despite his actions seeming largely selfish in nature.
We are given a glimpse of Eddie at home with his wife and kids. Mitchum actually very good in these scenes by just being so straight forward in presenting Eddie as just a nice father and husband no more, no less. Mitchum though importantly does show exactly that Eddie does have something he cares about. Furthermore Mitchum, when Foley demands more information or fails to really provide any real benefit for the information that Eddie provides him. Mitchum again is excellent in never simplifying the emotional reaction which further helps to explain the man. Mitchum grants the expected frustrations towards Foley as he gets nothing in return but he also does reveal a real pain in Eddie as he speaks about giving up his friends who trust him. There's an outstanding moment late in the film where Eddie approaches Foley with an additional bit of information that will lead to the arrest of more of his friends. In the approach Mitchum presents the struggle and sense of self-loathing in his hesitant delivery. This makes it all the more torturous when Foley coldly reveals that the information is useless since the men have already been arrested.
The Friends of Eddie Coyle, in great detail, shows the methods of the criminals as they undergo long lengths to commit their crimes in almost a French Connection style and also reveals that there is no honor among anyone in the organization. In turn Eddie's story is not one about redemption, or overcoming the odds to get out. It's about the last days of crook who never really made it anywhere, and no one truly cares about all that much. This sad truth is within the entirety of Mitchum's performance though again with only the weak attempts to create some sort of rationalization that he's more than he is, and will have an actual future. At the end of the film though Eddie run out of options, since he doesn't really have anyone else to turn in, and Mitchum reveals the palatable despair in Eddie as he no longer can create any delusions. What I love again though is the film never stops exactly to tells us about Eddie's state it so effortlessly within Mitchum's work. There is one particularly powerful moment near the end of the film where Eddie ponders about the promise in the future of a young Hockey player. Eddie does not speak about himself yet Mitchum is heartbreaking by in his face expressing that self-reflection of a man who knows he's essentially wasted his life.