Retro Review – Rumble Fish (1983)


Rusty James (played by Matt Dillon) is a gang leader of a dying motorcycle club living in the shadow of his older brother. Longing for the old days of rioting and fights, Rusty must choose his own path and find some meaning to his life as he struggles to find purpose.



This film is shot beautifully. Using black & white mostly bar only a few moments this movie is steeped in style and flair. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola and in his own words describes this movie as an ‘Art film for teenagers’ Lots of low shots, close ups and weird sped up motion skylines set an eerie dream like tone very fitting of the feelings in the movie. Add to that an unusual jazz like percussion score humming in the background and you’ll be forgiven for feeling a little dazed while watching just like the lead character. Rusty is confused and slow to realize what’s happening and the director goes to great lengths to make the viewer share that feeling. At times, it feels like we’re watching random scenes that are more like dream sequences that don’t really go anywhere but feel like they carry weight. It’s hard to describe but the feeling of hidden layers here makes me want to re-watch the movie and look for deeper meanings.


Time Relative

Depending on your age, this film may hold huge appeal to you. I found the themes and search for purpose caused me to reminisce about my teenage years. I didn’t have the pleasure of seeing this movie as a teenager but I feel it would have resonated more with me at that age. The mature themes of feeling trapped and lacking an individual identity are great and the movie is a great talking piece for the jilted generation. Definitely worth discussing with friends after viewing.


Star Studded

Having a huge director like Coppola fresh off making ‘The Outsiders’ meant a stellar cast was nearly a given. It was a joy to see young actors who have gone on to have such memorable careers. The cast includes Mickey Rourke, Laurence Fishburne, Nicholas Cage, Dennis Hopper, Tom Waits, Diane Lane and the late Chris Penn. It’s a who’s who of Hollywood stars and it’s refreshing to see them at this early stage of their careers. A special mention needs to go to Mickey Rourke who is sublime in this movie. His performance is subtle and nuanced and in many scenes he does more by not talking than most actors could do with pages of dialogue. At many times his character seems too cool and ambivalent to what’s going on. At one point during the movie I thought we might get a Tyler Durden twist as his performance was so surreal.



This movie was a critical and commercial failure at the time of release with many critics going to town on it’s flighty meandering narrative. I can understand the backlash it received but I really enjoyed this movie! It’s not a fun film nor is it for everyone. It’s for people who appreciate brilliant cinematography and enjoy movies that spark discussions and debate. The themes explored here beg for repeat viewing and I found the endings (trying to avoid spoilers) use of color followed by the smashing of the glass to be incredibly poignant and a great way to close out a thought provoking watch!

I’ll finish with a piece from the movie that made me smile. When Rusty asks his brother what California is like, Mickey Rourke delivers this gem :

“California is like a beautiful wild kid on heroin, high as a kite and thinking she’s on top of the world, not knowing she’s dying, not believing it even if you show her the marks.”



So what did you think of Rumble Fish? Did you relate to any of the characters? Did you find hope in the ending? Let me know in the comments below.

Special thanks to Sean Doran for suggesting ‘Rumble Fish’ to me. If anyone has any other movies they love from their past and would like me to watch, please let me know!

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