Rumble Fish * * * *
Director: Francis Ford Coppola.
Screenplay: S.E. Hinton, Francis Ford Coppola.
Starring: Matt Dillon, Mickey Rourke, Nicolas Cage, Dennis Hopper, Diane Lane, Chris Penn, Laurence Fishburne, Diana Scarwid Vincent Spano, Glenn Withrow, Sofia Coppola, William Smith, Michael Higgins, Tracey Walter, S.E. Hinton, Tom Waits.
Released back-to-back with his previous ‘teen-novel’ adaptation “The Outsiders“, Francis Ford Coppola attempted another of S.E. Hinton’s books. Like his previous release, he assembled a brilliant cast but approached it in a different style. This time, the results were far more impressive.
Rusty James (Matt Dillon) is a troubled young man from a broken background. His mother left him years ago and his father (Dennis Hopper) has turned to alcohol. He’s the leader of a small gang in a time where gang fights are dying out and most people of his generation still idolise his absent older brother ‘The Motorcycle Boy’ (Mickey Rourke). Rusty James refuses to accept and believes he can make as much a name for himself as his legendary sibling. When his brother returns to town, the life that Rusty James envisioned begins to change.
Admittedly, I never got around to reading the book on this one and given Coppola’s sumptuous visual take on it, I’m sure it would have made for an interesting comparison. Much like “The Outsiders“, this also has a feeling of a teenage audience at heart but is executed with much more darkness and depth. Coppola’s use of monochrome – with momentary flashes of vibrant technicolor – is simply astounding and quite beautiful to observe. Several scenes throughout the film border on surreal and dreamlike and the intense performances add to this; Matt Dillon is on great form as the tearaway teenager who can’t stay out of trouble and as his brother, Mickey Rourke delivers a character of quiet, tortured intensity. The rest of the cast are great also with Dennis Hopper playing the alcoholic father and Laurence Fishburne, Chris Penn and Nicolas Cage making up the rest of Rusty James’ crew. Added to which, there is a welcome cameo appearance by Tom Waits, mumbling his way through a short but memorable character. Coppola once described this film as “an art-film for teenagers” and coming from the man himself, there is no better description. It might have been experimental or ambitious for him at this time but it still stands as one of his most visually refined pieces of work. Special mention must also go to Stephen H. Burum for his ethereally stunning cinematography and Stewart Copeland (from the band “The Police“), for his unsettling and impressionistic score.
This makes a perfectly dark companion piece to the lighter side of “The Outsiders“. They couldn’t have been shot any more different and if viewed together, would make a great double bill.