Hamushy’s review published on Letterboxd:
Truly a film that only a director like Francis Ford Coppola would be interested in making since only a small portion of the audience would even be interested in seeing it. I must admit that at the beginning of the film I found the tone and story a little too odd and off beat. The acting felt a little stale and the dialogue somewhat corny, but Francis Ford Coppola is just trying to establish his grim world with its confused characters and around the 15 minute mark, the film suddenly had me quite captivated. The story is centered around a teenager named Rusty James, who is desperately trying to live up to his legendary brothers reputation, while awaiting his glorious return.
Rumble Fish boasts a unique visual style and many experimental filmmaking techniques as well as an experimental score. It was shot in extremely high-contrast black and white on deserted locations filled with smoke to create the proper film-noir feeling and gloomy atmosphere. As the true avant-gardist that he is Coppola didn't hire a professional martial-artist to construct his fight scene, but chose to have a ballet choreographer Michael Smuin stage the sequence. The result is a much more interesting and intense scene with focus kept on dramatic effect and creating a fight that fits the style of the film, with every sound effect from a punch, kick or weapon becoming an instrument and a part of the musical score.
Rusty James is a role that fits Matt Dillon's appearance and acting technique better than the roles he's usually given. The result is of course a much better performance than he usually delivers. His character is not endearing at first, but once I got past his overly masculine tough guy behavior and could see him for the lost soul he truly is, the character had earned my interest. Rusty's brother is always referred to as "The Motorcycle Boy" instead of his name, this quite clearly signifies the different status of the two, The Motorcycle Boy is played by Mickey Rourke who also gives the best performance of the film, maybe even the best performance of his career as a character who is relatable, interesting and different. The remainder of the cast consists of Dennis Hopper, Vincent Spano, Diane Lane, Nicolas Cage and Chris Penn.
It's maddening to think that a film so beautiful was such a box office bomb at the time of its release. If a film as good and deep as this had troubles, during a time when the industry was so much more open-minded, what chance does an artsy, symbolic or otherwise deep film have to make it in our time? Few films deal with the subject of adolescent angst as well as Rumble Fish, few films are able to depict such a confused search for an identity and few directors have mastered symbolism to the degree that they are able to use fish as a metaphor for human existence. For this Francis Ford Coppola has my utmost respect.