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Rumble Fish (1983), #28 out of 100

December 11, 2012


It’s another hot night in the city as Rusty James, rambunctious teen leader of a gang of ne’er-do-wells, is called into challenge for a brawl; and yet there’s an immediate listlessness to him and his pals reactions. It’s a play that’s been seen and recast too many times, an action as natural and tiring as getting out of bed in the morning, and James alone seems to be excitable about it, because he has the most to prove. The younger brother of the infamous Motorcycle Boy, the previous leader who had since took his bike and left without a word, he’s constantly living under a shadow and having to push his bravado into dangerous territories, only to find he’s the one who cares the most. But it’s when the Motorcycle Boy returns, still as hip and enigmatic as ever, but with a disdain for the life and the youth he has left behind, that Rusty James is forced to question the waywardness of these urban animals.

Coppola’s second adaptation of an S.E. Hinton book about inner-city teen drama wisely eschews the conventional approach he took to The Outsiders and turns Rumble Fish into a wildly freewheeling and spontaneously stylistic jam of desperate youth and broken adults adrift in a sea of half-answers to half-questions. Driven by wildly directed scenes and a constantly shifting soundtrack, the film is just as unwilling to settle as Rusty James, but just as powerfully strong in its belief in itself. The savior to both Rusty James’ chaotic life and the answer to the film is in the contemplative Motorcycle Boy’s newfound discoveries, what answers his lonely travels gave him that the gang lifestyle never did, and the support to give James a chance to make his own journey for himself. That there is a destination alone is enough to give the most forlorn young man hope. Arriving at his own delayed coming-of-age after his brother, Rusty James’ tale of maturation, much like maturation itself, is better felt than explained.

From → Top 100

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