by Adam Riske
There are times I need to remind myself that I’m not always going to like every movie made by directors I consider my favorites. I equate it to taking a train; most of the time you’ll both be on the same train running on the same track but there will be days where your favorite filmmaker is conducting the train on track #3 instead of the usual track #2. The train on track #3 got to where it meant to, but that doesn’t mean you like the destination it reached.
That’s where I’m at with Francis Ford Coppola’s two films from 1983: The Outsiders and Rumble Fish. I want to like both movies, but they’re just not for me in the way other Coppola films are including his Godfather trilogy, The Conversation, Apocalypse Now, Peggy Sue Got Married, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and The Rainmaker. I admire much of the Coppola filmmaking flourishes in The Outsiders and especially the very experimental Rumble Fish, but the impediments are ones I can’t get past.
I read The Outsiders in school (I think it was junior high, but it could have been high school) and I loved it at the time. It was one of my preferred novels we read in class. There was something exciting and identifiable about the story of teens in emotional turmoil. We watched the movie on VHS in class after we were done reading the book and I remember being underwhelmed by it because of how much was lost in translation from page to screen (which isn’t Coppola’s fault, really, because Warner Bros. forced him to chop the movie down considerably). This recent rewatch was my first in decades and, no longer having fidelity to the novel and just wanting to watch a good movie, I was underwhelmed by the 1983 cut. The Outsiders has a cast of recognizable faces before they were stars (Matt Dillon, Diane Lane, Ralph Macchio, Patrick Swayze, and Tom Cruise to name a few, there’s so many more) but only a couple really register (Dillon and Macchio) and the rest come across more as ciphers. The best scenes are the ones with C. Thomas Howell, Matt Dillon, and Ralph Macchio together, away from the rest of the group. The heartbreak that Tough Guy Matt Dillon feels when he sees that the group’s altruism is punished instead of rewarded is affecting but it doesn’t land like it should because the whole movie feels like it’s in too big of a rush to sit with any of it.
It’s a bit of a bummer to write pans for two 1983 films in a week designed to celebrate the films of that year. I was fully expecting to enjoy both The Outsiders and Rumble Fish but as a I said before, me and Mr. Coppola were just not on the same track this time. And that’s okay. It doesn’t diminish him as an artist to me whatsoever. I’m glad to have had an excuse to revisit The Outsiders and see Rumble Fish for the first time. I still have some holes left in Coppola’s filmography and I'm eager to see what’s next.