One of two S.E. Hinton novels Francis Ford Coppola directed in 1983, Rumble Fish is a stylized black-and-white film about the death of gang culture in a rough-and-tumble town full of stunted youths.
The central character is the strutting Rusty James (Matt Dillon), a foul-mouthed lunkhead clad in sweaty tank tops, who passes his time at the billiards hall waiting for something to happen in his life. That something might be the return of his brother, known only as the Motorcycle Boy (Mickey Rourke), from exile in California.
Charismatic and intelligent, the Motorcycle Boy once led numerous wide-eyed followers into battle, into the rumbles once commonplace in town. Rusty James wants to take over that role, but lacks the smarts necessary for leadership, nearly getting himself killed in an opening fight.
The Motorcycle Boy stops the fight with equal parts efficiency and cool, and Rusty James seems delighted by his brother's return.
But it quickly becomes clear that a local cop (William Smith) is still gunning for the Motorcycle Boy, waiting for him to slip up, even though the mysterious youth has developed a weary philosophy of life and a skeptical view of his former power.
As the Motorcycle Boy seems more and more distant, lost in deaf and color-blind fugues, Rusty James gets into greater trouble, running afoul of his girlfriend (Diane Lane) and friends (Nicolas Cage, Christopher Penn, Vincent Spano), and seeming on the path to destruction.