Nicolas Cage in: Rumble Fish

Rumble Fish

Released in 1983 ▪ Review posted August 31, 2014

I’m not here

This isn’t happening


In Rumble Fish, Matt Dillon plays Rusty James, a teenaged gangbanger living in Oklahoma in the 1950s under the shadow of his older brother’s notoriety. His sad, daily existence plays out in a black-and-white, noir visual style. The noticeable absence of a narrator gives it a more modern feel despite its period piece pretenses. It also has an interesting collection of time metaphors that includes clocks, loud ambient ticking sounds, and time lapse shots of shadows and clouds, adding a sense of momentum to a film that could have deflated and dragged along.

The intentional departures from the norms of 1983 cinema make Rumble Fish a treat to watch. It is something different when everything else was mostly the same. And not to debase myself, but apart from a prominent unibrow Matt Dillon was very attractive in this movie. Really, very sexy.

The supporting cast is exceptional, featuring a young Diane Lane, Dennis Hopper, Laurence Fishburne, Chris Penn, Mickey Rourke, Tom Waits, and our hero Nicolas Cage. Cage has the most supporting of supporting roles in Rumble Fish as Rusty James’s best friend and co-hoodlum. His character’s name is “Smokey,” and has just enough scenes to avoid a credit like “Thug #1.”

Nonetheless, Cage does a quality job of being a C-level character. He blends in and doesn’t overpower. There are no silly voice or screaming tactics. It might be the most successful attempt to suppress all the energy of Nicolas Cage that has been committed to film. As much as I object to using Nicolas Cage in a low-level supporting role—with him it’s either go big or go home—it was effective in this case.

Rumble Fish, with The Cotton Club and Peggy Sue Got Married, was the first of three consecutive Francis Ford Coppola films that include Cage as a supporting character. Coppola dedicated this film to Cage’s father, August Coppola, a comparative literature professor and Francis Ford’s brother. There is a ton of family pride wrapped up in this movie. That could explain why Cage, a man so determined to make his own way in Hollywood that he gave up his Coppola birth name, still accepted three film roles from his uncle. Regardless of his commitment to self-development, Rumble Fish is a good movie that Cage made better.

How was the movie?
Different but good
How was Nic Cage’s acting?
Supportive and good
Did his performance make the movie worse?