Rumble Fish (1983)

A feverish attempt at exploring the nature of wasted youth with strong visual and aural stylings that can’t quite hide its meandering narrative.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Dir. Francis Ford Coppola
1983 | USA | Drama/Crime | 94 mins | 1.85:1 | English
M18 (passed clean) for some nudity

Cast: Matt Dillon, Mickey Rourke, Diane Lane, Dennis Hopper, Nicolas Cage, Laurence Fishburne, Tom Waits
Plot: Rusty James is an up-and-coming street hoodlum, lamenting the old school days of the gangs when his older brother, The Motorcycle Boy, ran things as President of the Packers.
Awards: Nom. for Best Original Score (Golden Globes)
Distributor: Universal

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Youth Rebels; Coming-of-Age
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream

Viewed: Criterion Blu-ray
Spoilers: No

Most, if not all, will remember Francis Ford Coppola for his string of extraordinary works in the ‘70s, but his erratic ‘80s may prove to be fascinating as well. 

One of Coppola’s own favourites, Rumble Fish gets a new 4K digital restoration, and indeed, the visual and audio quality are top-notch, from the pristine black-and-white cinematography by Stephen H. Burum that evokes elements of German Expressionism, to Stewart Copeland’s (of British rock band The Police fame) percussive original score that complements the film’s sensorial and poetic sound design. 

It’s technically a remarkable film as Coppola creatively plays with mise-en-scene and editing to give us an artistic work that is propulsive from a film language standpoint… yet it all seems strangely kind of moot. 

I don’t really know how to describe the film except that maybe it feels feverish—like it is fiery but also listless at the same time. 

“Time is a funny thing. Time is a very peculiar item. You see when you’re young, you’re a kid, you got time, you got nothing but time.”

The film’s strong visual and aural stylings can’t quite hide its meandering narrative about a young, rebellious man looking up to his gangsta older brother who returns seemingly reformed after a long absence. 

Coppola has called Rumble Fish an ‘art film for teenagers’—perhaps that nails the description for this odd film in an oxymoronic way. 

By attempting to strike a middle ground between artistic expression and mainstream appeal (by virtue of its young and good-looking cast that includes Matt Dillon, Mickey Rourke and Diane Lane), Rumble Fish finds that balance elusive. 

I appreciate the indelible performances, particularly from Dillon, and the film’s obsessive exploration of the nature of wasted youth (and by extension, wasted time), but I still can’t quite resonate with the whole package.

Grade: B-



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