'The Outsiders': THR's 1983 Review

The Outsiders - H - 1983
Overall film plays unevenly, with a cliche and detached ambiance that robs the plotline of what passion it might have whipped up.

On March 25, 1983, Francis Ford Coppola and Warner Bros. brought The Outsiders adaptation to theaters, featuring a cast that included many rising stars. The Hollywood Reporter's original review is below.

Francis Coppola's first directorial effort since Apocalypse Now and One From the Heart is a curiously unconvincing excursion into a (supposed) teenager's world, circa 1966, that will need massive support from high schoolers, circa 1983, to pay off in its initial runs.

The fact that its lineage somersaults from the S.E. Hinton book that has had wide popularity with youthful readers since it was initially published in 1967 means a plus, as does the participation of Matt Dillon, the only "name" in the cast and a current favorite with the pubescent crowd.

But beyond those assets, there isn't much here to create a box-office stir, and little interest to post-teeners, save those with a curiosity to view anything connected with Coppola's flights into film. In The Outsiders, the director's touch of class is consistently present, but it may be a case of the wrong man for the job, since overall film plays unevenly, with a cliche and detached ambiance that robs the plotline of what passion it might have whipped up.

Main thrust of the story, as scratched in the screenplay by Kathleen Knutsen Rowell, shows a clash between some town "greasers" (the poor boys) and the "socs" (pronounced "soshes" and meaning the rich kids), with the twain never mixing, even on chance meetings at the drive-in movie. When a meeting does occur, the skirmish ends with "greaser" Ralph Macchio killing "soc" Leif Garrett in a fight provoked by Garrett.

Since folks at home don't care (we're told; we never see adults), Macchio and pal C. Thomas Howell go to gang leader Dillon for help, hitch a short ride on a train and temporarily hide out, spending their time waxing poetic about sunsets and life and reading Gone With the Wind. On the way back to town to turn themselves in to the police, they become heroes by saving some kids in a fire. Macchio is severely burned, the greasers have a rumble with the socs, and Dillon comes to a gloomy end when he freaks out over Macchio, specifically, and life, generally.

Despite some good directorial touches and earnest playing by the fresh-faced cast, everything in The Outsiders plays less like a realistic portrait of teenagers (of any era) than it does of an idealized view of what one hopes teenagers might be like, under the grease and the "yeah, man" dialogue. If Coppola and company have something deeper in mind, it doesn't read here.

It is to the film's credit (and Coppola's) that, despite the continual false notes, The Outsiders is consistently interesting to watch. Besides the surface charades, there are many homages to Selznick's interpretation of Gone With the Wind, including some striking similar vista shots, even opening with a duplication of the panoramic, sweeping GWTW-like titles. Intended or not, there are also unmistakable memory jogs of West Side Story (1961) and MGM's 1949 The Sun Comes Up, wherein Lassie — instead of a greaser — saved the kids in the burning building.

Cast is good, with Dillon the most convincing as a rebellious, troubled teenager — he looks it, acts it and conveys the needed danger. Patrick Swayze makes a strong impression as Howell's older brother, although the script has him a brute one minute, a compassionate pal the next and dilutes his possibilities.

Macchio and Howell carry the majority of the film and do commendable jobs; most of their peers (Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Tom Cruise, Darren Dalton and Garrett) have little to do but add color. Diane Lane, seemingly the most sensible of the kids, may be the most gorgeous redhead in films since the days of Rita Hayworth and Susan Hayward.

Picture was filmed on location around Tulsa, although cinematography by Dean Tavoularis has a soundstage look and doesn't necessarily convey either Oklahoma or the story's time setting of 1966. If Coppola wanted it "timeless," it nevertheless robs much of the story of any potential grit.

Music by Carmine Coppola adds a symphonic touch, another oddity in a film that seems to shift gears much too often for its own impact. Box-office waves, if any, will be as interesting to contemplate as the idea of how The Outsiders might have played if put on the screen by talents closer in age to the subjects they're X-raying. — Robert Osborne, originally published on March 23, 1983.