Rumble Fish ★★★★★

“If you're going to lead people, you have to have somewhere to go.” 

A quick dispelling of the odious notion that Francis Ford Coppola could never follow up his seminal seventies oeuvre, Rumble Fish is an enrapturing portrait of lost youth and ranks among his very best work. We’ve all been like Rusty James at some stage in our lives, craving an escape from a rut and constantly looking up to someone else (in this case the relentlessly cool, soft spoken Motorcycle Boy) for inspiration on how to live our best life. The myth of the Motorcycle Boy is something Rusty James will never live up to however hard he may try. Matt Dillon and Mickey Rourke play these two characters with all the rugged masculinity necessary as well as a heavy sense of vulnerability as we see their broken home headed by an alcoholic father, played by a tragically convincing Dennis Hopper.

Coppola is showing us the effects of inner city life, children raised with nothing but criminality and alcohol surrounding them, the exhilarating youth offset by a directionless adulthood, wrought with despair and anguish. Rusty James never knows where he is going or what he wants to do with himself, only that he wants to be like his brother, this dream is questioned by the slowly fracturing mind of the Motorcycle Boy whose time in California has shown him how American youth culture is nothing but a drug addled haze and nothingness. The days of gang fights are gone for them as life’s harsh reality begins to take shape, romanticism replaced with mediocrity. Rusty James discards Patty, someone who gives him the love and attention he craves, in order to live up to this shell of an image, further emphasising the pointlessness of street life. 

Holding this inherently tragic yet beautifully subtle storyline together is immaculate cinematography and camera work. The sense of place is conveyed perfectly as we follow the boys through the musty streets, bright diners and decaying apartments. Their loss and melancholy is enforced by the black and white, a suitable and artful backdrop, Coppola is transporting us into this dream world. It feels so different from his other work, gone is the conservative angles from The Godfather Trilogy or the insanity of Apocalypse Now, instead we get super character focused and thoroughly atmospheric direction. Simply put, some of the best work I’ve ever seen behind the camera. If Coppola was never among my absolute favourite filmmakers then he definitely is now.

Rumble Fish is quite possibly the greatest coming of age drama I have ever seen, a uniquely crafted, endlessly watchable, stunningly acted and powerfully scripted piece of eighties cinema that not only follows his previous work well but actually improves upon some of them, if that was even conceivable.

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