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.

Mark Walker


13 Responses to “Rumble Fish * * * *”

  1. This is one of those films that i keep meaning to get around to, but others that get added to my TO WATCH list keep bumping it down.

    Thanks man


    • Its worth checking out for the visuals at least Scott but as long as you keep in mind that it was written by a teenager for teenagers then you can’t go far wrong. Coppola’s approach to it is very impressive.


  2. I remember this was my favorite movie ever once upon a time. Now I don’t remember that much of it apart from the handsome Rourke with the melancholic smile and the fishes, the only color spot in the entire film. It was pretty, wasn’t it?

    I’m almost afraid to revisit it, unsure of if it will keep up. But it sounds as if I could thread that path again without fear.


    • I think The Outsiders was probably my favourite once upon a time but this is definitely a stronger film. There is still a jarring sense of adolescence about it but I think thats down to Hinton’s writing. Coppola doesn’t quite manage to transcend that but visually it’s still outstanding. I don’t know if you know this, but amongst the crew, the film was known as “Mumble Fish” due to Rourke almost indecipherable dialogue. Lol.
      I still think his performance is great though. You can’t beat a bit of the Rourkster.


  3. Very interesting choice for a double billing here, Mark. I’ve actually never seen this one but it sounds pretty super.


    • It’s in a similar vein as The Outsiders Andy but done in such a gorgeous monochrome way. The material is still the same and aimed at a younger audience but Coppola does try to mix things up cinematically and it works a treat. If you go into with the right frame of mind, you should enjoy it.


  4. Nice reviews, Mark. All of the films based on S.E. Hinton’s work (and numerous knockoffs) are all kind of blurred together in my childhood memory, so I’ve been meaning to get back to them at some point. Nice to hear that Rumble Fish holds up pretty well, as I’m not sure I ever actually saw that one.


    • Cheers Morgan. Yeah, they are a couple of film’s that seem to be a big blast from the past for a lot of people. You should have a look at Rumble Fish, it’s a decent film.


  5. Great review. Sounds very interesting. The plot reminded me a little of American History X. The cast is certainly impressive as well.


    • It’s far from American History X Fernando. I loved that film but this is aimed at a younger audience and done in such a dreamlike style. Worth checking out, if only to see Coppola change his style.


  6. sanclementejedi Says:

    O man I got to check this out…. better than the Outsiders…. I think I saw this was streaming somewhere going to have to try and watch it this weekend. nice write up


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