The Outsiders — ’60s teen gangs seen through ’80s eyes

The Outsiders always gazed into the rear-view mirror — Francis Ford Coppola’s Cheez Whiz take on the SE Hinton novel of warring teenagers set in 1960s Tulsa, Oklahoma, was made in 1983. Of course to watch the movie now is to enter a lost world twice over. Re-released and brightly restored, it feels less bound up with the era in which its characters tussled than that in which it was made. Most of the stars would soon be dubbed the Brat Pack, a swaggering brand name in a brash, nostalgic ’80s Hollywood: the ensemble includes Matt Dillon, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez and Patrick Swayze. A snarling Tom Cruise turns up in the middle of the cast list; the lead is C Thomas Howell, playing kind-hearted Ponyboy Curtis.

On page and screen, the dominant school of Young Adult fiction has long since become dystopian sci-fi. Hinton and Coppola were still working in an older mode — a melodrama of doomed youth played out on train tracks and at drive-ins, matters of life and death pursued between cliques. Here, the heroes were the Greasers — denim roughs — their rivals the aspirational Socs. As with all stories of teen gangs, tragedy lies in the chasm between the teacup storms of turf and face and the violence they inspire.

The movie is sincerely anguished, sensitive to class. It can also wobble alarmingly. Still piecing himself back together after the trauma of Apocalypse Now, Coppola seems less confident with the stiff acting of a few of his young cast than he was surviving the Philippines jungle. The upshot is a mixed blessing, sweet but best taken as a preface to Rumblefish — another Hinton-Coppola alliance made the same year, again with Dillon and co-star Diane Lane, that film a bona fide American classic.

★★★☆☆

In UK cinemas from October 15

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