By Charles Cassady Jr.,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Teen-gang saga is more intense, violent than the book.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Rusty James' hero-worship of his brother Motorcycle Boy is misplaced, and he has to shake off his ideals of street-fighter heroics. There's the question of whether Motorcycle Boy is truly brilliant or just a mentally ill misfit. There's also a suggestion that a broken home (the mother's desertion) has ruined forever both the left-behind husband and the son old enough to comprehend what was happening. A sub-theme: the urban environment breeds gangs and violence, and people in cities are compared to animals in cages, though the only solution -- get outta there! -- is a bit simplistic. (And, for Motorcycle Boy, too little too late.)
Positive Role Models
Rusty James is a trouble-prone, at-risk kid, school dropout, and unfaithful boyfriend, but by the end he realizes some of the negatives of his acts and outlook. He has a more timid sidekick,
Steve, who follows Rusty James into bad situations but doesn't initiate them. Characters idolize Motorcycle Boy for his supposed intellect as well as his "coolness" and fighting style, though even he thinks they've got it all wrong. He sacrifices himself to show his brother not to follow his path. Most grownups - - a grouchy principal, a broken and alcoholic father, a vengeful cop -- are not very positive. Gangs here are mostly white, with a few black characters (friendly and unfriendly) on the margins.
Violence & Scariness
Brutal beatings and kickings, a stabbing, and an (offscreen) fatal shooting. A motorcycle runs down a child.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Topless girls in panties, bare male buttocks in an orgiastic party. Rusty James has an ongoing sexual relationship with girlfriend Patty, though we just see close cuddling. In a series of daydream fantasies he imagines her in skimpy lingerie draped all over his school classrooms.
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The f-word, the s-word, "asshole," "hell," and "bitch."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Extensive underage and adult liquor drinking and cigarette smoking. Rusty's father is an alcoholic. A marauding character is said to be on pills. Talk of heroin use, in a negative context -- that it ruined the "fun" of being of being in a gang, among other things -- and a supporting character is described as miserable junkie.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that the raw moments include a sex-party scene exhibiting female and male nudity (erotic-daydream fantasies about a pretty girl wearing very little in a classroom are slightly less explicit). There's also gang-fighting (arranged like a duel, with all the kids turning out to watch at the appointed time), a mugging and beating with a tire iron, and reckless driving on a motorcycle (no helmets), plus one fatal shooting. There is much drinking/drunkenness and cigarette smoking as well, and heroin use and addiction is discussed (and disparaged). Swearing at R-level emphasizes the f-word, and the lead character speaks glowingly of the street-gang lifestyle, though other characters work to change his mind.
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Based on 3 parent reviews
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One of my favorite films of all time
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What's the Story?
In a nameless city -- though faithful readers of the S.E. Hinton books can tell you it's the rough side of Tulsa, Oklahoma -- high-school delinquent Rusty James (Matt Dillon) comes from a once-upscale household that fell apart after their mother left. His lawyer-father (Dennis Hopper) is now a habitual drunkard, while his 21-year-old brother, dubbed Motorcycle Boy (Mickey Rourke), is a street legend, credited with putting an end to gang wars before leaving town. Rusty James dreams of becoming as great as Motorcycle Boy, and in the meantime he keeps up his manly reputation with fights, sex, and classroom misbehavior. Then Motorcycle Boy returns, having gone on a life-changing trip to California to look up their mother. Aloof and quiet most of the time, speaking cryptically like some leather-jacket Buddha, MB tries to steer Rusty James away from the dead-end dysfunction that's engulfed their family and city.
Is It Any Good?
After a scrupulously faithful, even overcautious adaptation of S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders, director Francis Ford Coppola did this wildly stylized rendering of another Hinton property. Instead of playing it safe, the director shot RUMBLE FISH in black-and-white (with striking trick-photography color inserts) inventive camera angles, dynamic editing, sideways dialogue, and surreal staging. Sometimes the themes gets lost in all the hypnotic audio-visuals (some of which may be conveying Motorcycle Boy's color blindness and partial deafness), but the acting is strong. It says something that, while a lot of 1980s movies tried to be music-videos, no critics accused Rumble Fish of turning MTV, even though rock musician Stewart Copeland of The Police composed the soundtrack. Rather, this is a youth-gang violence saga transformed by Coppola into an "art film" (a very R-rated one) with all the positives and negatives that go along with filmmaker indulgence. Readers who already absorbed the messages via the book may be most forgiving of the riffs on Hinton's powerful narrative.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the messages in the film and the choices the characters make. Why did Motorcycle Boy come back from California to his dangerous, no-future hometown situation?
Do you know any Motorcycle Boy-types? Can you relate to the people and situations here or not? What other movies and books speak to this type of character?
Many teens have read the book. Ask what they think of director Coppola's offbeat approach to the story, and if they would like to see more serious-minded films like this that take wild chances with B&W photography and hallucinatory imagery.
- In theaters: October 21, 1983
- On DVD or streaming: September 13, 2005
- Cast: Diane Lane, Matt Dillon, Mickey Rourke
- Director: Francis Ford Coppola
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 94 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- Last updated: December 17, 2022
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