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Rumble Fish
USA, France
IMDB rating:
Francis Ford Coppola
Maybelle Wallace as Late Pass Clerk
Glenn Withrow as Biff Wilcox
William Smith as Patterson the Cop
Diana Scarwid as Cassandra
Vincent Spano as Steve
Matt Dillon as Rusty James
Tom Waits as Benny
Diane Lane as Patty
Nicolas Cage as Smokey
Michael Higgins as Mr. Harrigan
Mickey Rourke as The Motorcycle Boy
Chris Penn as B.J. Jackson (as Christopher Penn)
Dennis Hopper as Father
Laurence Fishburne as Midget (as Larry Fishburne)
Storyline: Rusty James is the leader of a small, dying gang in an industrial town. He lives in the shadow of the memory of his absent, older brother -- The Motorcycle Boy. His mother has left, his father drinks, school has no meaning for him and his relationships are shallow. He is drawn into one more gang fight and the events that follow begin to change his life.
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Underrated tour de force
In Rumble Fish, much directorial and acting talent is brought together to produce a strange but effective work.

The soundtrack, by Stewart Copeland, is a tremendous backdrop to the arresting visuals. The soundtrack CD, even in isolation, is great music.

The film is beautifully shot entirely in black and white, with the exception of the Rumble (Siamese Fighting) Fish, of the title, a metaphor for Rusty James (Matt Dillon) and his brawl-prone friends. The monochrome photography is supposed to mirror the colour blindness of The Motorcycle Boy (Mickey Rourke).

The fish - and ergo the boys - will fight their own reflections, if there's nothing else to fight. For Rusty James and friends, fighting is an outlet for the frustrations of their doomed existence, born on the wrong side of the tracks, with few prospects. Rusty James yearns for a time when there were gangs, led by his brother The Motorcycle Boy. He wants more than anything to be like his brother, but can never get there. He lacks his brother's intelligence and is too stupid to understand that this is why he will never be like The Motorcycle Boy who, for his part, now regards the "rumbles" as childish.

The performances of Dillon, Rourke, Nicolas Cage, Vincent Spano, Diane Lane etc - are excellent. For me, though, Dennis Hopper, as the boys' alcoholic father, is startlingly good, unearthing real emotion from the pathos of his character's life. The intensity of his little bar-room speech about Rusty James' absent mother sends shivers up and down the spine.

Coppola must be credited for a unique and profound interpretation of SE Hinton's short novel. He employs stylistic flourishes - time-lapse photography, expanding and contracting shadows, monochrome-except-for-the-fish. He loads the film with symbolism and mood. For this, the film has been accused of pretentiousness and there is some justification for this, because it is not evident who it is aimed at. The book was teenage fiction, but the film is 18-rated. Much of the subtlety might be lost on the likely audience of a film which is ostensibly about youth gangs. However, if you can get past that, Rumble Fish remains a superb film and something you can watch repeatedly and always find rewarding.
Coppola's Most Underrated Work
"Rumble Fish" (1983) Rated "R" by the MPAA for Adult Situations, Profanity, Brief Nudity, Some Violence, Minor Gore, Brief Drug Use & Underage Alcohol Use. Running Time 1hr&34mn. My Take: ***1/2 (Out of ****)

"Rumble Fish" just might be Francis Ford Coppola's most overlooked film.

This movie, based on the Susan E. Hinton novel, tells about young street tough Rusty-James (Matt Dillion) who idolizes his older brother known only as 'The Motorcycle Boy' (Mickey Rourke).

Rusty-James longs for the days of rumbles and being a part of a gang. His friends are somewhat reluctant to feel the same way. His girlfriend Patty (Diane Lane) goes to an all-girl prep school. She's supportive of Rusty-James' need for acceptance and wanting to be cool like his estranged brother. "You're better than cool", she reminds him. "You're warm!" That's also a warning. Will Rusty-James heed?

Subtly, this is a film about the failure of the 'American Dream' and making choices, whether right or wrong. After all, Rusty-James' family fell product of the socialization process. They live in the slums, but that may not always have been the case. The boys' alcoholic father, memorably played by Dennis Hopper, was once a well-to-do lawyer earlier in life. What about the enigmatic Motorcycle Boy? Is he truly crazy? Or does he have 'an acute perception' that drives him crazy?

Brilliantly shot in black & white, Stephen H. Burum's cinema-photography makes "Rumble Fish" feel like something out of a chaotic dream. Everything is surreal, yet relative to each other. Clouds stream by overhead symbolizing the passage of time. Clocks appear throughout the movie suggesting time-is-a-burnin'. The suggestion here is: don't waste the time you do have while you still can. Stewart Copeland's almost all percussion and highly rhythmic score adds to that effect.

In "Rumble Fish", Coppola skillfully addresses the need to belong, to lead, to have goals, to have vision and warns not to fall deeper into an urban trap. Will Rusty-James discover what it means to step out and become his own identity before it's too late? As The Motorcycle Boy points out, "If you're going to lead people, you need to have somewhere to go."

That's good advice.
mix together 1 great book and a talented director and you got Rumble Fish
I own the Outsider. It was the first Francis Ford Coppola movie I had ever seen and knew it was a Francis Ford Coppola movie. I read all of S.E. Hinton's books and thought that Rumble fish was an okay book, but of almost too dark and sad. Then I saw the movie last week and thought it was fantastic. The characters fit so well, but I guess maybe it's because they are actors and it's their job to fit well! It's easy for Matt Dillon though because I think he plays the same kind of person in all the S.E. Hinton books adapted to films. Diane Lane on the other hand can play a rich girl in one movie and white trash in the other. The thing was, the filming, which I noticed in both movies, was very creative and cinematic. He would go up close to one person even though they weren't speaking so that he could get their facial expressions while the person who is talking is out of focus and behind the person who isn't talking. And the color. Putting it in black and white you would think would make it easy to tell it's not a happy movie, but it's there for a reason. When he finally understands, he finally burts into color for a second. They talk about color a lot too. About how The motercycle boy can't see colors. The whole movie was cleaver and artistic.
One of the greats
People sometimes ask me to name my top ten films, and in my answer Rumble Fish is always included in my top ten. Visually this film is stunning. Filmed in black and white, the cinematographer makes use of time lapse photography, and bilious camera angles to make this a visually stunning film to watch. There is also regular use of swirly mist/fog that is cleverly employed to show a sense of Tulsa being an unhealthy place to live and to show that the characters are being smothered in this environment.

Alongside the innovative camera work the film score enhances the film even more and fits so well with the scenes in the film. Stewart Copeland wrote the score for Rumblefish just prior to working on the last of The Police albums and he helps build tension superbly when it is required.

Rumble Fish boasts a stellar cast, a cast that one couldn't afford today, as most of the actors went on to become household names. One of the main characters of Rumble Fish is 'Rusty James' played by teen heartthrob Matt Dillon. Rusty James is an uncomplicated character whose main interest is street fighting and chasing women. Rusty James is in awe of his older brother known as 'The Motorcycle Boy' mainly because his brother used to be the leader of Rusty's gang before he left on his bike to the sunnier climbs of California in search of something better. 'The Motorcycle boy's' homecoming although welcomed by Rusty James also creates a little tension between the brothers as Rusty tries to emulate his older brother's coolness and fighting prowess and constantly bemoans the fact he doesn't have the same intelligence.

In one of his most memorable performances Mickey Rourke plays 'The Motorcycle boy', an intelligent sensitive character, who returns to Tulsa after living for a short while in California. The film, shot in black and white, is from the motorcycle's perspective as he is colour blind. He is an odd character who hangs around a pet shop and obsesses about 'rumble fish' , better known as siamese fighting fish because he draws parellels between his dull tulsa existence where the only pleasure is fighting with rival tulsa gangs; and life in the fish tank, where the Rumble Fish are separated because they fight their own reflection.

One of the film's sub plots is the conflict between 'The Motorcycle Boy' and the local cop who sees 'The Motorcycle Boy' as a threat to the peacefulness of the neighbourhood. We are not explicitly told why the cop dislikes 'the motorcycle boy' but we are left to assume it is because of the previous gang fighting that went on before 'The Motorcycle boy' briefly left for California. As the film progresses the oddball behaviour of the motorcycle boy grows more erratic until he finally breaks into the Pet store he has been casing and sets free all the animals. The pet store break-in has serious repercussions and life will never be the same again for Rusty James.

Aesthetically and performance wise Rumblefish is one of the best ever Art House films made and I highly recommend this film to those yet to have seen it.
The downfall of Coppola starts here
Releasing after the much less artsy adaptation of S.E Hinton's The Outsiders Francis Ford Coppola's Rumble Fish adaptation is prime example of where the once great director started to lose the plot and a product that shows the downfalls of trying to make a movie with the style over substance mantra.

Filmed in a stark Black and White and filled with many a dream like quality Rumble Fish's presentation allows no connection to the story of Hinton's book which one feels would be ripe even this day to adapt if the approach was more grounded. Coppola set out to mimic artists and expressionism in his take on the disaffected youth of the 50's – 60's yet forgot to engage us in the plight of the characters who led by Matt Dillon as Rusty James do fine jobs in their roles. Rumble Fish is today mainly noteworthy for these early acting pieces by the likes of both Nicolas Cage and Dianne Lane. The weakest link of the film following the direction of Coppola is strangely the supposedly enigmatic Motorcycle Boy played by then desirable icon Micky Rourke.

Rourke seems like an almost ghostly figure in the film playing Motorcycle Boy as a disinterested young man who barely seems to want to talk as witnessed in his irritating hushed tone and blank facial expressions. In a movie where the youth look up to this supposedly charming and charismatic bad boy it is a major miss-step by Rourke to play Motorcycle Boy as he does and Coppola to allow him to do so. Another flaw in the film is the seriously idiotic musical score by Police member Stewart Copeland who seemingly had taken the opportunity to experiment rather than craft an effective accompanying piece.

Rumble Fish is not all bad but it's also a wasted opportunity to be a classic take on youth on family and the source material has a lot going for it that would work in a film format. Thanks to some novelty factors of seeing the young cast ply their early trade and an interest in what should be an affective story it remains watchable yet in the end merely showpieces as Coppola's beginning of his ever diminishing creative genius that at one stage was nigh unbeatable.

2 foggy streets out of 5

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Good movie, amazing director, and a legendary actor.
Francis Ford Coppola's film Rumble fish is an excellent display of directorial talent, as well as acting ability. Mickey Rourke gives a superb performance that somehow finds it's strength in silence. The performance by Rourke goes hand in hand with the camera angles used by Coppola and works out extraordinarily well. Dennis Hopper ads a Dennis Hopper performance, and the rest of the cast plays their roles as well as can be assumed. This film is a true testament to Mickey Rourke's acting ability and understanding of the art, starting a string of movies that are only matched by the likes of Brando and arguably Paul Newman. If you enjoy performance and true acting, watch this flick dudes.
Francis Ford Coppola's most personal film is also one of his best - in its own way just as good as APOCALYPSE NOW and THE GODFATHER films. Those who wonder why Mickey Rourke is so revered by cult film fans need look no further than his almost-hypnotic performance as The Motorcycle Boy. But Matt Dillon is just as good as his younger brother, and when you also have the likes of Nic Cage, Diane Lane, Dennis Hopper, Laurence Fishburne, and Chris Penn in the supporting cast, you know it's a once-in-a-lifetime movie. The look of the film - a sparse black-and-white urban landscape - is perfect, as is Stewart Copeland's atmospheric music. But aside from the visual and aural pyrotechnics, what really singles this out as a bona fide classic is its spot-on portrayal of disaffected youth. When Hopper describes to Dillon how Rourke has simply been "miscast in the play", I still feel shivers running down my spine...
A gorgeous and emotional film
I recently watched this for the second time -- I had to make sure that it was really as excellent as I felt it was on first viewing a decade or so ago. I'm convinced that it's a masterpiece, one of the best films I've seen from the 1980s and my very favorite film by Francis Ford Coppola. The source material is from a novel by S.E. Hinton, who also wrote Coppola's "The Outsiders." Now "Outsiders" is a very good film, especially for teenagers, and it featured a lot of up and coming stars. But it's pedestrian compared to this masterpiece.

This film has just about the best cast you could imagine in the early 80s -- look at the names: Mickey Rourke, Matt Dillon, Nic Cage, Chris Penn, Lawrence Fishburne, Dennis Hopper, Diane Lane, Tom Waits. Everyone gives exceptional performances, but especially Rourke and Dillon as a pair of misfit brothers trapped in their own identities within the mundane city they grew up in. The Motorcycle Boy (Rourke) is a local hero and Rusty James (Dillon) has lived in his shadow his entire life -- which he doesn't even seem to mind, since he's never aspired to anything more than becoming as much like him as possible.

"Acute perception" -- that's their father's (Hopper) way of describing the gifts that lift Motorcycle Boy above the norm -- and yet he is colorblind, just as we are while watching the black and white film. The color symbolism is used rather directly to convey to the audience that the "rumble fish", trapped in isolated cages where they would gladly kill each other or even their own reflections, are a metaphor for the brothers themselves. This is not a complex film in terms of what it's trying to convey or even how it says it -- what makes the film deeply interesting to me is the way that it makes beauty and magic out of the ordinary or the mundane. Coppola's camera is so incredibly close to the objects so much of the time, and the angle is so wide, that it makes ordinary objects or events appear hyper-real and cinematic. Along similar lines, Stewart Copeland's fascinating soundtrack is largely composed of rhythm tracks taken from "found" industrial noises. The objects in the field of vision are not what's special -- it's the method or the style of the vision itself, the perspective, that makes for the film's unique beauty.

A film that could have been obvious and even clichéd becomes extraordinarily textured and vibrant as a result. I can understand why not everyone on Earth was enamored of this film when it came out. But I feel personally compelled by this movie. I feel like it's really connecting with the characters and that it really is sincere about giving us a whole new perspective on the world of its creation. It's just the right amount of surreal, there's just something a bit "off" about just about every image here so that we know we're watching a movie. Such a heavily stylized approach coupled with a comparatively generic, though heartfelt, story could have turned into a disaster if all the elements had not come together right. I've never been 100% behind Coppola, because I do think that sometimes his style becomes oppressive and unnecessary. But this movie just came together the right way, at least for once in his professional life. The dangerous kind of magic that Coppola seeks actually worked here, and he created a film about teenagers to rival his protégé Lucas' "American Graffiti" or even Nick Ray's "Rebel Without a Cause." The kinds of elements that only worked sporadically on "Apocalypse Now" or the more measured and conservative "Godfather" films was firing on all cylinders in this case. A lot of credit goes to his talented collaborators, of course, but Coppola in this case was able to harness his talent and focus it on the task at hand to create a film that looms larger than all the talents involved, including his own.
A Forgotten Classic
With the premier of THE ARTIST this year, we thought it relevant to reflect on this amazing classic, shot beautifully in B&W by Stephen H. Burum (The Untouchables, The Outsiders, Carlito's Way). As usual, timing is everything. The early 1980's were the beginning of Blockbuster movie-making – Lucas and ILM ruled the silver screen with vibrant color and special effects, certainly not to their discredit – Coppola was a close friend and colleague.

Not the best time to release a B&W gem of an experiment like Rumble Fish. This is not a product of the Hollywood machine – this is a deeply personal project. Based on the S.E. Hinton Novel – Coppola produced the film shortly after directing THE OUTSIDERS, which really took "first place" in our collective minds. I would certainly say both films are a bit like fraternal twins (RUMBLE FISH being the true "outsider"), with a stellar cast to offer, some in their infancy: Matt Dillon, Mickey Rourke, Dennis Hopper and Dianne Lane, with Lawrence Fishburne, Nicholas Cage, Chris Penn and Tom Waits in the "wings".

Here we see Coppola unhindered: taking the raw, youthful anger of Matt Dillon (only 19 at the time), in stark contrast to Mickey Rourke, playing his aloof, half-deaf color-blind brother – whose relationship we see reflected in the black and white color-pallet. The ever-moving clouds and smoke balanced with the iconography of the clock, appearing in almost every scene, reflects time as both ever-moving yet ever present, and Stewart Copeland's almost hypnotic score supplements the themes effortlessly.

We see how the experience of "growing up" alters one's perception of time: Rusty James is so reckless – so eager to become his brother – fighting to gain his experience. He is surrounded by it, but innocent to the impact of it. It's a story of characters sick with loss – the loss of their mother, the loss of stability, the motorcycle boy's loss of sight, sound and mental faculty are iconographic in the very bones of the film. Rusty James, for all his rage and pursuit of violence, is, at heart, the only innocent in this family, and is recognized as the only one who can escape it. Innocence (or ignorance) is truly bliss, best expressed in his drunken father's response to Rusty's yearning to "be like his older brother". Dad (brilliantly played by Dennis Hopper) answers with a look of disdain: "You should pray to God not.", striking him, "You poor baby. You poor child."

- Jason Piekarski, creative director, Manik Multimedia
One of the best films to re-watch!
Yes, this was an effective, well-acted and visually stimulating art-house movie - the forgotten masterpiece of Francis Ford Coppola. I just recently watched this again and fell in love with it. I was a big fan of S.E. Hinton's writings growing up and this film did it justice. It's interesting that author S.E. Hinton claims that the script to this movie was written "on one of the first personal computers" in less than two weeks. How technology has changed nowadays with Final Draft. Matt Dillon gives his best performance as Rusty James, a 1950s street punk whose alcoholic father has all but walked out on him, and whose older brother (an enigmatic figure known only as The Motorcycle Boy) has left and moved to California some time ago. Dig this one up again. It's a classic.
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