Movie Review: Rumble Fish

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Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Writers: Francis Ford CoppolaS.E. Hinton

Stars: Matt Dillon, Mickey Rourke, Diane Lane

Verdict: Allright… I guess..?

Well Francis Ford Coppola has had an eclectic career. The gangster epic of The Godfather, to the slightly less racist adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Apocalypse Now, to The Lives of Others and Blow Out preambler The Conversation, horror film Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the trash he started off with like The Bellboy and the Playgirls, to, um, Jack, and Twixt. To, um, whatever this is..?

Based on a novel by S.E. Hilton, (The Outsiders), of the same name, Rumble Fish takes place in an era sort of post gangster, (even though there still seems to be gangs but whatever), there’s a kid called Rusty James, (I’m serious everyone calls him this), who’s brother, who’s earned the moniker The Motorcycle Kid, left for California when things at home got too bad, but to quote him, ‘California got in the way’. He then returns like the prodigal son. We then just kind of, hang around with these two kids for a bit.

I really, really wanted to like Rumble Fish. I remember seeing The Godfather and thinking that there’s great stuff in here but my god is it wayyyyy too long, I remember seeing Apocalypse Now and thinking, again, this is great but much, much, much too long, especially seeing as the novella it’s based on, Heart of Darkness could well be a short fucking story. So Rumble Fish, it starts off absolutely explosively. There is a fight scene that pretty much counts for half of the first act that is just absolutely mad, cut really unconventionally and just keeps up this mad pace that is clearly intentional. Then Mickey Rourke, (The Wrestler, Angel Heart), shows up and the film just flumps. It just suddenly stops and we just follow Mickey Rourke around for a bit. Now Rumble Fish is only just over 90 minutes, (94 exactly), and it already feels just way too long. Now, I never got bored, mainly because there’s a lot of very fine performances in there, and also some stuff that is interesting if not brilliant. There’s a great small performance from Dennis Hopper, (Easy Rider, SpeedBlue Velvet), essentially playing the same character as he did in Apocalypse Now. There’s a walk on performance by Diana Scarwid, (What Lies Beneath, Mommie Dearest), essentially playing Blanche Dubois from A Streetcar Named Desire, which y’know is a potentially problematic character anyway and is done no favours in this film. There is an uncharacteristically low key turn from Nicolas Cage, (Leaving Las VegasNational Treasure), and actually I think that’s in a way representative for the whole film.

The problem is it never really kicks into gear. It has a tone that it’s going for, and it’s definitely got style but even when stuff was happening, aside from that fight scene at the beginning, I never really felt like anything was happening. I was having the experience I had with Near Dark of following it on a narrative level, but not on the experiential that the film would like me to. Francis Ford Coppola’s previous film had also been a S.E. Hilton adaptation being The Outsiders, and it had similar characters, and the story goes that Coppola made it for the studio, to make up for fucking up One from the Heart, and he was never really satisfied with it, and you can see that in Rumble Fish. I mean, it is clearly a very personal film, but you can also see that maybe it was a film made less out of a love for the story of the characters but more out of a place of wanting to go off and make something very styalistically his own. Now you could say Refn did that with Only God Forgives, but no one would say that was his best film. Now a phrase that a lot of people throw at Refn is style over substance and it’s a phrase I really dislike when overused, which it is, but it’s also a phrase that I think really aptly applies to Rumble Fish. It also has really ear scraping dialogue at times in how cliche it is. I mean West Side Story was a pastiche and still managed have better dialogue. It also seems conflicted on it’s idiology, what it’s trying to say. I won’t say it’s a bad movie, but it’s not nearly as good as I wanted it to be. 

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