rumble fish bar scene

Mickey Rourke: A Rumble Fish born in the wrong century

For this post I’d like to offer my thoughts on Francis Ford Coppola’s Rumble Fish and how Mickey Rourke seems to be ‘born in the wrong time period’, no matter what film he’s in.

matt dillon francis ford coppola

Released in 1983 and filmed largely in black and white, it tells the story of Matt Dillon’s ‘Rusty James’, a young hot-headed wannabe gang leader, killing time at home waiting for ‘something to happen’ and trying to fill his brother’s shoes, Mickey Rourke’s ‘Motorcycle Boy’.

That’s largely it in terms of plot and story as far as I could tell. What the film does offer, is art and style. Indeed, it is incredibly stylised, Coppola’s aim at the time was to make ‘an art film for young people’, an interesting notion. Something with artistic merit rather than commercial. It does have a wonderful dreamlike quality, beautiful to look at, but perhaps not for everyone.

What stood out for me?
Firstly, the opportunity to see up-and-coming actors before they became A-list: Matt Dillon (he has never looked cooler, his most impressive role to date?), Nic Cage (bit wooden, but then it helps if you’re related to the Director), Chris Penn and Laurence Fishburne (both underused), Diane Lane (to be seen as Martha Kent in Zack Snyder’s forthcoming Superman film, Man of Steel), and last but not least, Mickey Rourke.

Which brings me on to my second point, the mystery that is Mickey Rourke. Ah Mickey, you were so pretty back then, why turn to boxing? Until now, I’ve only ever seen him during his renaissance ‘post-boxing’ period, films such as Spun, The Wrestler and Sin City.  His character in Rumble Fish – Motorcycle Boy – is mesmerising. Softly spoken (you can barely hear him at times), wise beyond his years, a dreamer. His relationship with Dillon’s Rusty James is complex. You really feel for Rusty James, wanting his brother’s approval, following him around like a lost puppy. Watch the clip below to get an idea of the dynamic between the two.

Watching this film, I was struck by the DNA it shares with Sin City in terms of style. Use of colour, shots from different angles and perspectives. Obviously there’s a 22 year gap between the two, but my point stands. Particularly at the end, where Motorcycle Boy wants to set the fish free in the river.

Born in the wrong century
Almost sounds like a Springsteen song doesn’t it? I am of course, referring to the title of this post – I get there in the end! There’s a great scene between Dennis Hopper’s ‘Father’ and his sons, Rusty James and Motorcyle Boy.

rumble fish bar scene

Hopper describes Motorcycle Boy in the following way, ‘And neither, contrary to popular belief, is your brother crazy. He’s merely miscast in a play. He was born in the wrong era, on the wrong side of the river… with the ability to be able to do anything that he wants to do and findin’ nothin’ that he wants to do…’

A similar thing occurs in Sin City, Clive Owen’s character, Dwight, describes Rourke’s character, Marv, in much the same way, ‘Most people think Marv is crazy. He just had the rotten luck of being born in the wrong century. He’d be right at home on some ancient battlefield swinging an axe into somebody’s face. Or in a Roman arena, taking his sword to other gladiators like him…’

Maybe Mickey just likes to play rough and ready characters. Those with inner anger, tightly coiled rage, hidden depths, big hulking brutes with a heart of gold. Who knows. Either way, I am glad I saw Rumble Fish and some of his early work.

More to come from him in the future I hope. Until next time…

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