Ben Hibburd’s review published on Letterboxd:
I couldn't get into this film for some reason. Regarded by Coppola as his favourite film he's made, I find myself perplexed as to why he holds that opinion, especially when paired against the likes of "The Godfather", "The Conversation" and "Apocalypse Now". Technically speaking this is a really interesting film, I loved the gorgeous black and white cinematography, I watched this film on MUBI (UK), and the print was pristine. Coppola uses his camera in some interesting ways, which gives the film a more ethereal sensibility almost as if the characters inhabit there own tightly constructed society. Especially as there seems to be an obvious lack of adults in the film, only appearing when they try to impose their authority (the principal suspending James, the sole cop who randomly appears like an omnipotent figure).
There's a lot of fantastic visually striking imagery on display, most notably the scene where James has an outer body experience. The problem I had with the film, is that it never fully congeals with the story or the characters, it's almost as if I'm watching two different movies that have been superimposed together. Watching the film, I wasn't sure what Coppola was trying to achieve especially as the movie went on.
As the film went on I became increasingly disinterested in the characters, despite a quite astonishing array of talent on screen. When you've got the services of Matt Dillon, Mickey Rourke, Nicolas Cage, Dennis Hopper, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Chris Penn to name but a few, I expected to see fully realised characters, but by the end I couldn't bring myself to care for anyone.
The script and the director seem to be at odds with each other; and are trying to accomplish different things. In parts there some excellent moments, but as a whole it left a lot to be desired, in the future I shall come back to this film, as I feel I've probably missed something that'll make the picture click, but as of this first viewing, I was left cold and underwhelmed.