James’s review published on Letterboxd:
Francis Ford Coppola's output took an unexpected turn in the 1980s, with two epic mafia melodramas and a hubristic Vietnam war film under his belt he took an unusual sidestep into coming-of-age dramas with the likes of The Outsiders and Rumble Fish, both essentially made side by side with similar casts and both based on novels by S. E. Hinton.
Whilst The Outsiders is more conventional, Rumble Fish is far more abstract, more experimental and much more fascinating as a result. Scuppering any sense of realism almost instantaneously, we are launched into a feverish black and white urban dreamscape populated with expressionist visuals and symbolism that comes to terms with fleeting youth and inner city ennui through overtly stylised methods.
Coppola called it his arthouse movie for teenagers, drawing on the French New Wave (Matt Dillon is the new Jean-Paul Belmondo) and European films of his youth; some of the fantasy sequences are so lovingly indebted to Fellini, yet despite this wealth of easily transposed inspiration the story and characters come to life on their own so vividly, often relying on feeling more than coherence. The scene with the two brothers played by Dillon and a still handsome Mickey Rourke riding through the empty streets at night on a stolen motorcycle carries genuine emotional weight that conveys so much without a word spoken.
Cited as his most personal and favourite film, it's nonetheless no surprise to know it wasn't a success with audiences. Those not susceptible to its unique charms will be frustrated by the lack of direction and it carries a heavy burden of artifice that doesn't always come off as well as it could. Stuart Copeland's percussive score is so intriguing and an integral part of the very fabric of the film itself, the complex staccato rhythms hyping up the intensity of the grimy images lensed by Stephen H. Burum who shoots with the neurosis of Orson Welles firmly in mind.