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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Francis Ford Coppola is a filmmaker who throws caution to the wind and is very willing and passionate to try anything, which is what ranks him as one of the greatest American filmmakers of all time. However, that approach doesnít always result in great work and if one is familiar with Coppolaís career, they can see that it is lined with hits and misses. With the exception of The Outsiders and Tucker: The Man and His Dream, the eighties was a decade of misses for Coppola. One of these misses was Rumble Fish.
Rumble Fish was the second adaptation of an S. E. Hinton novel for Coppola after The Outsiders, which was also recently released in a Special Edition DVD. In fact, the two films were shot back-to-back. I never read Rumble Fish but read The Outsiders when I was fourteen and fell in love with it. It was a novel that really resonated with me and continues to do so. I was also a big fan of Coppolaís film version. Although some key parts of the novel were excised (theyíve been put back in the Special Edition DVD), Coppola captured the essence and feel of Hintonís book. Unfortunately, lightening didnít strike twice with Rumble Fish.
The Hinton oeuvre of looking behind a faÁade and seeing the truth and redemption are ever present and are wonderful themes that Iím sure were portrayed beautifully in the novel, but the film doesnít do them justice. Coppola eschewed the essence of S. E. Hinton and made what he calls "an art film for teenagers" by going full throttle on style to the point of self-indulgence. The film looks and sounds incredible thanks to Stephen Burumís beautiful black and white cinematography and Stewart Copelandís impressionistic score, but overall the film is heavy-handed, convoluted and aloof making it unwatchable at times.
Despite the shortcomings of Rumble Fish, the bonus features on this DVD are quite good. Francis Ford Coppolaís commentary is very insightful and entertaining, though he does gush one too many times about his daughter Sofia whenever she appears on screen. There are also two very revealing featurettes on the making of the film and the musical score in which Stewart Copeland breaks down what inspired the score and how he constructed it.
Rumble Fish is basically a film thatís either loved or hated. Since its release in 1983, the film has acquired somewhat of a cult following. I donít hate the film, but I definitely donít love it either. I consider it an interesting failure.