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USA 1983
Directed by
Francis Ford Coppola
94 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Rumble Fish

Immediately after The Outsiders, his ill-judged adaptation of a S.E. Hinton novel earlier that year, Francis Ford Coppola adapted another novel by the same author but went in a very different direction (perhaps also helped by the fact that Hinton wrote the screenplay). Using some of the same cast, notably Matt Dillon and Diane Lane, but shooting in black and white in a highly stylized expressionist style and with a sound design that places the film in an abstracted oneiric world, Rumble Fish was generally not well received in its day but it deserves to be included in any short list of classic troubled-teen films.

Dillon plays Rusty James, a good-looking but dumb-ass punk who idolizes his older brother "The Motorcycle Boy" (Mickey Rourke). In the best troubled teen tradition he yearns for his mother who disappeared when he was young, leaving him and TMB with their alcoholic father (Dennis Hopper). TMB is smart but also troubled and when he returns to their home town the final act of their relationship is enacted.

Whereas Coppola romanticized teen angst in the most trite Hollywood way in his first Hinton adaptation, with this film his approach is closer to theatre, abstracting his characters from the real world and placing them in symbolic universe where events unfold with fatalistic inevitability. The Motorcycle Boy, an existential/beat hero, is played with charismatic coolness by Rourke whilst Dillon gives one of his most memorable performances as Rusty James, the angry young man who wants only to be like his brother.

If there is a shortcoming with the film it is that its abstractness or suspended state means that there is little in the way of dramatic depth or development as the narrative is driven to its conclusion more by external thematic requirements than by the interaction of the characters. Notwithstanding, Rumble Fish is an adventurous and impressive film.




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