Summer of Nicolas Cage Movie #16: Rumble Fish

1983 movie made by Nic's Uncle Francis

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Rusty James is the younger brother of legendary gang leader [The] Motorcycle Boy, a 20-something who is on sabbatical in California. Upon The Motorcycle Boy's return, Rusty James is trying his best to keep the gang and its various activities going. Meanwhile, he's balancing love and hedonism and knife fights with a rival gang. But time's are changing, his older brother just doesn't seem into it all anymore, and it might be time for Rusty James to grow up. Rusty James!

I wonder if the name "Rusty James" is said more in this than "Man" is said in The Big Lebowski. I'm surprised I liked this one as much as I did. It's got dimensions, one of those you can enjoy on a lot of different levels. There's style to spare--black 'n' white and smoke machines and greasy shadows in dank settings and time-lapsed cloud drift and fish color splashes and shots straight out of German Expressionism. It's enough style to take this out of realistic territory and place its goings-on firmly in this imaginary movie land. I suppose that could distract, but I dug it as a sort of experimental film for teeny-boppers. I really should have seen this movie in high school. The largely rhythmic soundtrack by Stewart Copeland (apparently, a policeman) perfectly compliments the experimental tone and this streetwise otherwordliness. I could play it for you, and you'd guess it was from an 80's movie, but it didn't leave a bad taste in my mouth like so many other soundtracks from that era. In fact, I think I'm going to illegally download it! I enjoyed the leads, Matt Dillon and Mickey Rourke, the latter just exuding coolness, although I don't think I'd go as far as saying either of their performances was really good. I don't know; maybe I would. You've got a nice collective of performers playing the periphery characters as well. Dennis Hopper is really good in a small role as the boys' dad. Sofia Coppola is also in this briefly, making it a real family affair. Chris Penn, Laurence Fishburne (playing a character named Midget), our hero Nicolas Cage play Hollywood thugs. Even author S.E. Hinton's got a cameo as a whore. Of course, the real treat for me is seeing Tom Waits and Nicolas Cage on the screen at the same time. Waits plays, naturally, the owner of a pool hall, growling at the teens who don't use his furniture appropriately and getting a nifty monologue about time that sits near the heart of this movie. Speaking of time, there sure are a lot of clocks in this movie. I think there's a shot of a clock in every single scene which makes perfect sense (along with those clouds I mentioned before) since this has so much to do thematically with time and how it passes us by. Rumble Fish is a treat for the eyes and ears, and although Coppola takes a lot of chances with the way he shares the story, he doesn't sacrifice its heart or central message. Cool flick!

Note: I'm currently reading The Outsiders for teaching purposes. Tom Waits is also in Coppola's version of that Hinton book, but Nicolas Cage is not.

Correction: Stewart Copeland was a member of a band called The Police. He was not an actual policeman.

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