Like a lot of Coppola B-sides, The Outsiders is a lot better than its non-reputation would suggest. Beyond the novelty factor of seeing an ensemble of future-superstars look all young and baby-faced (Matt Dillon, Tom Cruise, Emilio Estevez, Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe and Diane Lane all show up – Coppola certainly had an eye for discovering talent) the movie works as both as a period melodrama and a curious look at adolescence. The 50s setting is lovingly brought to life and Coppola’s more experimental flourishes – a Gone With the Wind-esque sunset, optical blood filling the frame during a fountain stabbing – are a pleasure.
I enjoy a lot of these 80s Coppola movies because they show the filmmaker constantly fighting expectations by pushing himself in new directions even as his resources became increasingly limited. They all have artistic value and would probably be held in higher regard if they didn’t have movies like The Godfather or Apocalypse Now to compete with. Think of the crazy lavish and expressionistic musical numbers in One From the Heart or the monochromatic surrealism of Rumble Fish – which, like The Outsiders, is based on a novel by S.E. Hinton and was shot in Tulsa straight after the earlier film was completed – and try to pin-point another 70s auteur who took such elaborate stylistic chances with studio money. It ultimately sunk him into years of debt and led him to directing some genuine duds, but I never feel like Coppola merely phoned it in on these films, The Outsiders included.
The anamorphic photography is perfectly utilised to cram his stacked cast of characters into one frame and all the 50s iconography – drive-ins, club houses – acts as a great backdrop to a lot of scenes. It has the polish of a master craftsman but also satisfies as a simple story that has a few narrative curve-balls I didn’t see coming. It feels like exactly what it is: a 1950s story told with the freedoms of 1980s filmmaking.
Note: I watched the “Complete Novel” version which restores a good twenty minutes to the running time and replaces most of the orchestral score with 50s needle-drops. From what I’ve read about the original version, this certainly seems like the definitive way to experience the movie.
Watched on blu-ray.