Rumble Fish is an American 1983 drama film directed by Francis Ford Coppola. It is based on the novel Rumble Fish by S. E. Hinton, who also co-wrote the screenplay. The film centers on the relationship between Motorcycle Boy (Mickey Rourke), a revered former gang leader wishing to live a more peaceful life, and his younger brother, Rusty James (Matt Dillon), an uncool teenaged hoodlum who aspires to become as feared as Motorcycle Boy. The film's marketing tagline was, "Rusty James can't live up to his brother's reputation. His brother can't live it down." Coppola wrote the screenplay for the film with Hinton on his days off from shooting The Outsiders. He made the films back-to-back, retaining much of the same cast and crew. The film is notable for its avant-garde style with a film noir feel, shot on stark high-contrast black-and-white film, using the spherical cinematographic process with allusions to French New Wave cinema and German Expressionism. Rumble Fish features an experimental score by Stewart Copeland, drummer of the musical group The Police, who used a Musync, a new device at the time.
Set in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the film begins in a diner called Bennys Billiards, where local tough guy Rusty James is told by Midgit that rival group leader Biff Wilcox wants to meet him that night in an abandoned garage lot for a fight. Accepting the challenge, Rusty James then talks with his friends — the wily Smokey, loyal B.J., and nerdy Steve - who all have a different take on the forthcoming fight. Steve mentions that Rusty James' older brother, "The Motorcycle Boy," would not be pleased with the fight as he had previously created a truce forbidding gang fights, or "rumbles." Rusty James dismisses him, saying that Motorcycle Boy (whose real name is never revealed) has been gone for two months, leaving without explanation or promise of return. Rusty James visits his girlfriend, Patty, then rendezvous with his cadre and walks to the abandoned garage lot, where Biff and his buddies suddenly appear. The two battle, with the fight ending when Rusty James disarms Biff and beats him almost unconscious. Motorcycle Boy arrives dramatically on his motorcycle and this distracts Rusty James who is gashed by Biff in the side with a shard of glass. Incensed, Motorcycle Boy sends his motorcycle flying into Biff. The Motorcycle Boy and Steve take Rusty James home (past Officer Patterson, a street cop who's long had it in for the Motorcycle Boy) and nurse him to health through the night. Steve and the injured Rusty James talk about how Motorcycle Boy is 21 years old, colorblind, partially deaf, and noticeably aloof — the last trait causing many to believe he is insane. The Motorcycle Boy and Rusty James share the next evening with their alcoholic, welfare-dependent father, who says that the Motorcycle Boy takes after his mother whereas, it is implied, Rusty James takes after him. Things start to go wrong for Rusty James: he's kicked out of school after his frequent fights. Despite Rusty James' desire to do so, The Motorcycle Boy implies that he has no interest in reviving any gang activity. Rusty James fools around with another girl and is dumped by Patty. The two brothers and Steve head across the river one night to a strip of bars, where Rusty James enjoys being away from his troubles. The Motorcycle Boy mentions that he located their long-lost mother during his recent trip while she was with a movie producer, which took him to California although he did not reach the ocean. Later, Steve and Rusty James wander drunkenly home, and are attacked by thugs, but both are saved by the Motorcycle Boy. As he nurses Rusty James again, the Motorcycle Boy tells him that the gang life and the rumbles he yearns for and idolizes are not what he believes them to be. Steve calls the Motorcycle Boy crazy, a claim which the Motorcycle Boy does not deny — further prompting Rusty James to believe his brother is insane, just like his runaway mother supposedly was. Rusty James meets up with the Motorcycle Boy the next day in a pet store, where the latter is strangely fascinated with the Siamese fighting fish, which he refers to as "rumble fish". Officer Patterson suspects they will try to rob the store. The brothers leave and meet their father, who explains to Rusty James that, contrary to popular belief, neither his mother nor brother are crazy, but rather they were both born with an acute perception. The brothers go for a motorcycle ride through the city and arrive at the Pet Store where the Motorcycle Boy breaks in and starts to set the animals loose. Rusty James makes a last-gasp effort to convince his brother to reunite with him, but the Motorcycle Boy refuses, explaining they are too different to ever have the life Rusty James speaks of. The Motorcycle Boy takes the fish and rushes to free them in the river, but is shot by Officer Patterson before he can. Rusty James, after hearing the gunshot, finishes his brother's last attempt while a large crowd of people begin merging on his body. Rusty James finally reaches the Pacific Ocean (something the Motorcycle Boy never got to do) and enjoys the shining sun and flocks of birds flying around the beach.
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