Jordan Smith’s review published on Letterboxd:
Fans of Coppola's The Outsiders must've been sent to the emergency room for whiplash upon seeing Rumble Fish not even seven months later. The former offers up a big cheeseburger and fries while the latter might ash in your beer if you're not careful. Cute analogy aside, The Outsiders is pitched very broadly, as if ready to be worshipped by those who have The Goonies memorized. Rumble Fish is pointedly insular, by comparison — more tone poem than paperback. There's a rah-rah camaraderie to The Outsiders that is devastatingly absent here. The gang violence that sours at the end of Outsiders is hanging on by a thread in Rumble Fish.
The gang warfare represents the halycon days for Rusty James (Matt Dillon), a tough, confused youth who aspires to be as fearless a leader as his brother, The Motorcycle Boy (a baby-faced Mickey Rourke affecting a Brando-esque mutter). Coppola gradually reveals Rusty James to be a pathetic character and it's Dillon's bruised turn that sells it. The three-hander scenes between Dillon, Rourke, and their father (a profusely sweaty Dennis Hopper) admittedly don't quite piece together in the lingering way they might on the page, but Dillon anchors it all. At 19, his recklessness and self-acknowledged dimness is heartbreaking. He feels molded from clay, brought to life expressly for this role.
I was unsurprised to discover this endured a rocky premiere, with Coppola being lambasted by those clamoring for more of his 70's epics. However, this did for me what Song to Song couldn't (to compare it with another stylized film from a "fallen" auteur): create an arc from emotions rather than plot. Coppola's picture has a similarly airy feel, courtesy of the dreamy, musical editing. It even pulls off the trick of having the score (conducted by none other than Stewart Copeland, drummer for The Police) lay on top of the dialogue, masking what characters are saying unless you have subtitles on. Like Malick, Coppola seems to yearn for innocence; the movie burns off its big brawl in the opening reel while a doomed, symbolic attempt to free some Japanese fighting fish stands in for the big finale.