Thirty years ago two things happened that are relevant to this review. Firstly, Rumble Fish was released, and secondly, your writer was born. This film, as old as I am, is one that I’d never seen until its Eureka: Masters of Cinema Blu-ray release, the release which I will reviewing here.
Directed by renowned filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather, The Outsiders), Rumble Fish was based on the novel of the same name by S. E. Hinton, who also penned the screenplay, and featured an impressive cast that includes Matt Dillon, Mickey Rourke, Dennis Hopper, Diane Lane and Nicholas Cage.
Rusty James (Dillon) leads a small street gang that is falling apart at the seams. He is dating a girl whom he doesn’t treat as well as he should. He lives in an industrial American town and finds himself existing in the shadow of his older brother, The Motorcycle Boy (Rourke) who has a reputation around the town, including with a police officer (William Smith) who appears to have a deep issue with him. Rusty James has to deal with his strained home-life which includes his sibling rivalry, lack of mothering presence, and an alcoholic father (Hopper) who is too distracted to pay his sons the right amount of attention and care.
It’s one of those stories that deals with a specific person, their flaws and their good points, and the variety of scenarios that they find themselves involved in. Rusty James is that grey area that exists in films that are brave enough to allow the protagonist to be antagonistic at times, bringing a realism and a defective edge to a character, making the whole experience feel less formulaic and more poignant.
Dillon channels James Dean in his role of Rusty James, that effortless youthful cool that only exists at certain points in time and with only a small number of talented performers. Rourke, as the quiet and intriguing Motorcycle Boy, puts in a soft-spoken performance that works really well against the young, brash high volume of Dillon’s Rusty. Dennis Hopper as their drunken father puts forward an enjoyable and layered job, bringing a level of warmth to what, in some hands, would be an easily unlikeable and one dimensional character.
Performances-aside, it is the cinematography, wonderful writing and fantastic score that truly make this film stand out. There are moments of wooden acting and a couple of scenes that drag a little more than they should but the visual experience of the film make up for any shortcomings that come into place at any point. The black and white look of the film isn’t just an artistic statement from an attention-seeking director, but a wonderful looking element that is actually part of the story itself. The use of shadows and reflections is outstanding and, along with a brilliant Golden Globe nominated score, the film just looks and sounds fantastic.
It is bleak, yet hopeful, and its anger is often mirrored in the pet shop window by elements of brotherhood, love and finding yourself among a landscape of dirt, dust and despair. It holds up some thirty years since its initial release and remains a wonderful story and visually effective artistic film. One of Coppola’s best, for sure.
The Eureka release, on their Masters of Cinema line of releases, is top notch. It looks great, with clarity and the right about of original grain kept in, and the sound is offered in its original way as well as in 5.1 Surround, both of which are excellent. The extras are nice, featuring some nice features based on the making of the film. It’s just a lovely release and a respectful one, showing a deserved nod to this wonderful drama.