Rumble Fish (1983)

June 08, 2011 By Mike B
Movie Review

What Worked?

If you think Francis Ford Coppola, you think of such classics as the Godfather trilogy and Apocalypse Now,  but a very underrated gem in Coppola’s filmography is Rumble Fish, a teen drama based on the S.E. Hinton novel of the same name. This film is harrowingly beautiful, and boasts a cast of pure talent, with most still trying to make a name for themselves at the time. Some of the now-familiar names are Matt Dillon, Diane Lane, Nicholas Cage, and Mickey Rourke. Rumble Fish is an art-house teen-rebellion character study that is observation of being trapped where one doesn’t belong.

This is possibly Coppola’s most visually interesting film yet. The film is very atmospheric, as it’s filmed in a sparse black and white, and contains elements and style of a stage-play, with the graciously neat fight choreography and smoky sets. The decision to film in black and white was very clever, as the Motorcycle Boy is colorblind, and the film is from his perspective. Coppola also gives us some surreal shots, as the camera glides and captures the imposing beauty of strong shadows, captures Rusty James’ daydreams or incorporates a literal out of body experience from Rusty James. He also adds poetic touches to the film, like leaving the fish in the bowl in vibrant colors. The minimal beats and rhythms of the soundtrack also add a sense of unworldly feeling.

Matt Dillon, as Rusty James, gives a fairly strong performance. He captures a seething anger that he has trouble expressing completely or controlling at times, and it comes out very naturally. Rusty James wants to be who his older brother used to be: a leader of a gang in the time of warfare. Dillon gives a good performance, but Mickey Rourke is without a doubt the standout of the film. Rourke plays the Motorcycle Boy, a former gang leader that disappears, only to make an essential return home to guide his brother to a redemption that he can’t attain himself. Rourke is soft-spoken, sage-like, almost like a former gang-leading transitional prophet with no god. He is completely hypnotic, and amazingly sincere in his performance.

Rumble Fish is more than a film about rebellion or angst. It juxtaposes two characters, brothers, that are essentially on the same path, although one is far down and the other just beginning. They are the rumble fish in the fish bowl that fight because they’re trapped; to them the fish bowl is the whole world. The Motorcycle Boy escaped, and this film is about him going back to the fish bowl to set his brother free.

Potential Drawbacks:

It’s not the typical teen-rebellion film, and not the typical gangster film. It’s a bit unorthodox for some, and comfortably paced. If art-house films aren’t your cup of tea, this may not be the best film to consider watching.

Film Recommendations:

The Outsiders
Rebel Without a Cause
One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest

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