The Outsiders review – Coppola’s Brat Pack melodrama carries you away

Like a rock’n’roll power chord, Francis Ford Coppola’s 1983 teen gangs melodrama The Outsiders comes crashing back on screen, in a longer “complete novel” cut. It is a movie with the heartfelt old-fashioned urgency of a Hollywood film from much further back, with the Brat Pack in this film the equivalent of the Dead End Kids who made Angels With Dirty Faces in the 1930s. And The Outsiders feels very different from the companion-piece Rumble Fish that Coppola made afterwards with much of the same cast, co-written again with novelist SE Hinton.

In Tulsa, Oklahoma in the early 1960s, there are two gangs, the greasers and the socs – derived from “socials”, the posher, Wasp kids whose parents can afford to join social clubs. There is a not-so-hidden racism in the socs’ loathing of the greasers who are often from an Italian background. One of the greasers, Ponyboy Curtis (C Thomas Howell) is poignantly in love with a sweet girl, Cherry Valance (Diane Lane), who hangs out with the socs. But this isn’t exactly a tale of star-crossed lovers and the gangs aren’t both alike in dignity. Class and caste divides them: they are the outsiders and the insiders.

The greasers are the heroes: tearaway Dally (Matt Dillon), Johnny (Ralph Macchio), Darry (Patrick Swayze), Sodapop (Rob Lowe) and Steve (Tom Cruise). When Johnny and Ponyboy kill a soc in self-defence, seasoned tough guy Dally gives them cash and tells them how to make a getaway. They hop on to a freight train to the country and hide out in a dangerous abandoned church, where they become heroes in the press for saving some schoolchildren who strayed into the building which then caught fire. Johnny ends up in hospital with tragic and sacrificial burn injuries: this may be the poetic justice which cancels out his killing a soc. And while they are hiding out there, these kids’ existence achieves a kind of Mark Twain drama and poignancy as they while away the pastoral days, quoting Robert Frost and reading an old paperback book: of all things, Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind.

This is a film that carries you along and there is an added savour in seeing those cherubic faces which have since settled into middle age.

• The Outsiders is released on 15 October in cinemas.