Coppola's Ode to Rusty James and The Motorcycle Boy
Whilst some adore them I tend to dislike movies which end up being style over substance, trying to impress and entertain by being artsy rather than through the story. And I was sure before sitting down to watch "Rumble Fish" I was going to dislike it due to Coppola's attempt to make an art movie for teenagers, shot in black and white with a variety of low camera angles and stylish techniques. But whilst "Rumble Fish" does feel like one massive experiment with Coppola trying out various styles it has one thing going for it and that is the acting especially from Matt Dillon which makes what would have been an annoying movie into something quite captivating. And saying that it's even stranger because "Rumble Fish" has a rather run of the mill teenage rebellion storyline and feels at times almost abstract with the indulgent styling.
Months after his brother, The Motorcycle Boy (Mickey Rourke - Body Heat), left town Rusty James (Matt Dillon - You, Me and Dupree) is trying to live up to his brother's notoriety by keeping his small gang going. But Rusty James is no Motorcycle Boy and with the gangs becoming a thing of the past he seems to be rebelling just to be like his brother. He's not helped that without a mother, an alcoholic father (Dennis Hopper - True Grit) and a girlfriend, Patty (Diane Lane - Nights in Rodanthe) he treats like crap he has very little going for him. But when he is drawn into a gang fight his life will have to change especially when his brother, The Motorcycle Boy, returns.
To be honest the storyline to "Rumble Fish" is almost unimportant because this is Francis Ford Coppola trying to be different and make an art movie for teenagers. And whilst I am not a fan of style over substance in a way it is a good thing because the experimental styles help mask the problems with the storyline. Having said that the storyline which basically revolves around teenage rebellion has some nice elements especially with Rusty James trying to keep alive the gangs and follow in the footsteps of his brother The Motorcycle Boy. It allows the storyline to explore elements of living in someone's shadows and trying to be something which you are not and this side of the story works reasonably well with a message which reveals itself as things unwind. But then it almost feels like Coppola is experimenting with the story, telling it in almost cliche chunks rather than allowing it to flow. It makes "Rumble Fish" a bitty movie of episodes which struggle to link together and in being so makes it hard work to really get into.
But as already mentioned "Rumble Fish" is all about the style and Francis Ford Coppola certainly goes all out to deliver an original looking, artsy movie for teenagers. Elements of it work especially the use of black and white with just the occasional flash of symbolic colour. And the low level camera angles add something quite clever about it, capturing the action and the cloud filled skies at the same time. But it gets too much and scenes become less about the story and what trick Coppola will employ to jazz it up. And because of that whilst the style helps to cover up the bitty nature of the story it also ends up distracting when things actually get good, no more so in an early street fight which could have been spectacular if it wasn't for Coppola trying to make it look artsy.
Despite what for me is an over indulgence of style "Rumble Fish" is a captivating movie and it is the performances which make it so captivating. There are good performances through out from the likes of Diane Lane, Dennis Hopper, Nicolas Cage, Vincent Spano and Mickey Rourke but it is Matt Dillon who stands out. Dillon's portrayal as the rebellious Rusty James is full on, delivering the aspect of someone not only trying to keep the past alive but also trying to be something he's not by trying to take his brothers place. It is all very raw, emotional acting which occasionally feels forced as Dillon seems to be searching for the lines but just watching him bring Rusty James to life, fighting for a cause not worth fighting for is marvellous. And to be honest with out Dillon's captivating performance I would have probably ended up hating "Rumble Fish" for its artsy nature.
What this all boils down to is that "Rumble Fish" is a movie which I am sure has and will continue to split audiences. Coppola's indulgent experimental styling is really what the movie is all about and the actual storyline whilst having a message boils down to being about teenage rebellion. As such the style over substance is enough to put many people off but then there are the performances, most notably from Matt Dillon which ends up outshining all the style and draws you into his character of Rusty James, almost forcing you to continue watching when the style gets too much because the rawness of his performance is captivating.