Review by Gordon Justesen
Dillon, Mickey Rourke, Vincent Spano, Diane Lane, Diana Scarwid, Nicolas Cage,
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Audio: DTS HD 5.1, DTS HD 2.0
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 94 Minutes
Release Date: April 25, 2017
“I don’t know why someone hasn’t taken a rifle and blown your head off.”
“Even the most primitive of societies have an innate respect for the insane.”
There are two sides to the great filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola. On the one side, you have the man who is responsible for such classic films as The Godfather and Apocalypse Now, which were made in the traditional Hollywood system. On the other side, you have a filmmaker wanting to work outside the system and make more experimental artistic pieces.
In 1983, Coppola showcased both sides in making two films based on novels by the acclaimed author S.E. Hinton. The first was The Outsiders, which was very much made in the classic studio system way. It boasted an impressive cast of young actors, sending most of them off into big time careers.
Two weeks after wrapping production on that film, Coppola began filming his second Hinton adaptation, Rumble Fish. Only this time, the project was far more personal from an artistic standpoint, as Coppola made a crucial decision to shoot the film in Black &White and make what he considered to be an “art film for teenagers”. It’s a film that definitely paved the way for the director’s future experimental pieces such as Tetro and Youth Without Youth.
The story centers on Rusty James (Matt Dillon), a young hell-raiser who thrives on getting in to street brawls and being idolized by the few followers he has. He lives a very broken life, never knowing his mother and his father (Dennis Hopper) being a full blown alcoholic. He has a pretty girlfriend named Patty (Diane Lane), but always seems to mistreat her in some way, shape or form.
His addiction to trouble-making stems from his own admiration for his older brother, known as The Motorcycle Boy (Mickey Rourke), a legendary figure in the gang world. Rusty is surprised to discover that his brother has resurfaced in town after a trip to California, appearing to be a completely changed man. He no longer wants to be tied into gang warfare, fearing that he’ll end up either as an alcoholic or an absentee mom.
Visually speaking, Rumble Fish is a uniquely distinctive film. The Black & White photography is extensively beautiful, allowing for a couple instances of color to appear even more striking. Stephen H. Burum’s camera work is also most remarkable in just the simple capturing of the skyline of its Tulsa setting, resulting in a film that feels entirely like a fever dream, best illustrated by a truly bold moment when Rusty has a literal out of body experience.
The acting is strong all across the boards. Matt Dillon, making his third appearance in an S.E. Hinton film adaptation following Tex and The Outsiders, slides into the role of the not-too-bright Rusty James perfectly. Even more impressive is a nice piece of understated acting by Mickey Rourke, who got knocked in a number of reviews for his quiet dialogue delivery but I felt added a great deal of mystery to his character. Also showcased is some fine early work from Nicolas Cage, Chris Penn and Laurence Fishburne, not to mention a neat cameo from Tom Waits as the runner of a pool hall diner that our lead character frequents.
Francis Ford Coppola has never once shyed away from taking risks, and Rumble Fish is a fine example of that. It’s a film that is truly not for everyone, even those who admired Coppola’s The Outsiders. However, and I loved The Outsiders, I find it to be a bold, visually striking piece of filmmaking that was indeed ahead of it’s time.
Rarely have I ever seen a Blu-ray transfer that has left me at a loss for words. Upon learning that Criterion was going to do a 4k transfer of this Coppola directed Black & White piece, I knew right then and there this was going to be one of the most masterful showcases of the year by the top Blu-ray producing studio around...and my expectations still managed to be exceeded! The transfer was supervised by Coppola and cinematographer Stephen H. Burum and right from the eye-catching opening shot, you are immediately pulled into this dreamlike world. The image is consistently rich and wonderfully textured, and the dark shadows appear especially strong. I have never seen the film on any of its previous DVD releases, but there is no doubt in my mind that Criterion’s Blu-ray handling exceeds anything that standard definition is capable of.
The audio side of Blu-ray is equally remarkable, as Criterion offers stunning lossless DTS HD in both 5.1 and 2.0 mixes. The primary sounding showcase is the music score by Stewart Copeland, which pierces the ears right from the opening moments. In addition, the sound presentation also delivers when it comes to background noises, dialogue delivery, numerous bare knuckle fights and so forth. And what’s more, both sound mixes deliver beautifully!
Combining new extras with those straight from a 2005 Special Edition DVD release, Criterion delivers one of their best lineup of supplements in some time, which is saying a lot! To start with, we get a commentary with Francis Ford Coppola, as well as new interviews with Coppola, author/co-screenwriter S. E. Hinton and associate producer Roman Coppola, a new conversation between cinematographer Stephen H. Burum and production designer Dean Tavoularis, as well as actors Matt Dillon and Diane Lane. There’s also pieces from 2005 about the music score and production, interviews from 1983 with Matt Dillon, Diane Lane, Vincent Spano and producer Doug Claybourne, in addition to a French television interview from 1984 with Mickey Rourke. Also included is “Locations: Looking for Rusty James”, a full length 2013 documentary by Alberto Fuguet about the impact of the film, a new piece about the film’s existentialist elements, the music video for the song "Don’t Box Me In", Deleted Scenes with a new intro by Coppola and a Trailer. Rounding out everything is a terrific insert featuring an essay by critic Glenn Kenny.
Rumble Fish is a riveting piece of experimental filmmaking by a director who’s best at it! And Criterion’s new Blu-ray release is an absolute must own, featuring an excellent audio and video presentation, and extras that are sure to have this title mentioned frequently at the end of year when the all around best Blu-ray releases are named!