28 January 2004 | MisterWhiplash
one of Coppola's very best; delivers a plethora of sharp visuals and terrific cinematography/performances
I saw Francis Ford Coppola's Rumble Fish in a film class, and it was interesting to see how certain scenes were made (seeing transitions and shots in slow motion, stopping to point out things), among the plot. From S.E. Hinton's novel, he assembles a breakthrough cast (a lot of teens) who show they can get into the characters quite effectively. And for those who love the technical side of a film- how it was made and what went into the shots and the meanings of shots- will have a feast that will turn them off or have them asking for more (or the rumored 8-hour cut, perhaps).
The story deals with characters who are struggling through life, stuck in a town where the environment seems nostalgically black and white, and only glimpses of color arise. We are given the story of two brothers- the one who takes a chunk of the story is Rusty James (an excellent, young Matt Dillon), a tough, sometimes ignorant teen who has all the strengths and weaknesses of the high-school 'rebel', taking after his AWOL older brother. The other is Motorcycle Boy (Mickey Rourke, perfect in his quiet and touching presence), who left his town and his reputation behind to go to California. He returns to find Rusty James getting in over his head, and all his best efforts to keep him cool are mired by old wounds (some wounds involving their parents, others by the effect the atmosphere left on him). There's also keen supporting work by fresh faces- Nicolas Cage, Chris Penn, and Laurence Fishburne as friends and sometimes followers of Rusty; Diane Lane (wonderful even in her youth) as a sweet/sour love interest; and Dennis Hopper as the father of Rusty James, who appears just enough to get the psychological points across to the viewer.
Coppola tends to use his symbols rather thickly, and it's arguable if he may show things too much, or maybe if he shows them just enough (i.e. skies darkening, clocks). Yet it doesn't stop him from creating indelible images- practically all the shots in the film could be put on a wall and look as great as any other by a professional photographer. With Stephen Barum and Dean Tavoularis (photographer and designer, respectively) scene after scene experiments with techniques (the fish is just a taste of this), and it's rather authentic in its respectfulness of the material. For example, in the gang fight, the style with which Coppola introduces characters controls the mis en scene, the editing and the use of shadows, all of this in this one sequence displays the tremendous directorial vision Coppola can have on a film.
It's not really a joyful film, and the downward spiral motif of the story may make some depressed with what they're seeing. But, if you want to see a very well-crafted film, the kind that gets better on repeat viewings (as with the Godfather films and Apocalypse Now), check it out- at least a viewer will get the sense of concise, complex film acting by young stars.