The Outsiders (1983)

7 Feb

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Smith’s Verdict: **1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“The Outsiders” is a film based on a best-selling young adult novel written by S.E. Hinton, who specializes in teenagers as complex characters (also read “Tex”). Francis Ford Coppola made this beloved book (beloved particularly by junior high and high school students) into a film at the request of a junior high English class who all signed a letter, asking Coppola to adapt this book. The result is a mixed bag.

The narrator is a fourteen-year-old “greaser” named Ponyboy Curtis (C. Thomas Howell) whose friends are all greasers. Greasers are the social outcasts on the north side of Tulsa, Oklahoma—most of which are hoods and they all have greasy hair. “Socs” (pronounced “soeshes”) are the rich kids from the south side of town—most of which have fun jumping greasers. There’s a conflict among them and occasionally, they throw rumbles to fight each other.

Ponyboy is basically a nice, smart kid—he reads books, keeps his mouth shut, and tries to stay out of trouble. His best friend is Johnny Cade (Ralph Macchio), a scared sixteen-year-old greaser who was beat up terribly by a soc long ago. Both wind up in a nasty situation after Ponyboy and Johnny pick up a couple of soc girls and their boyfriends catch them. This results in the murder of one of the boyfriends (committed by Johnny, who wouldn’t hurt a fly before) and the scared kids are forced to run away.

There are many characters among the greasers. There’s Two Bit (Emilio Estevez), a likable scalawag who has his fair share of screen time. There are Ponyboy’s older brothers Darrel (Patrick Swayze) and Sodapop (Rob Lowe). And last but certainly not least, there’s Dallas Winston (Matt Dillon), the rebel without a cause. Dallas helps Ponyboy and Johnny hide out after the murder.

All of the actors are great in their roles—the central trio of Howell, Dillon, and Macchio are convincing. But the problem comes with the story and development. The story is not particularly convincing and most of the characters aren’t developed properly. I didn’t really buy the conflict between the greasers and the socs. And some of the greasers who are in the film’s advertising don’t even have time to breathe—they just appear briefly. I bought the friendship between Ponyboy and Johnny, but not so much of the relationships with Ponyboy and his brothers. Here’s another thing wrong with the movie—Ponyboy talks about his brothers a lot more than he talks with them to the point where he just seems like annoying exposition. Sodapop just seems invisible throughout the movie. And then, there’s the plot thread in which Ponyboy is possibly going to be taken away from Darrel and Sodapop and must go to juvenile court for running away. That element is dropped and never spoken of again. It didn’t matter much because I didn’t care much about the brothers anyway.

I also didn’t like the music composed by Carmine Coppola. It’s all over the map here and, along with Francis Ford Coppola’s direction, seems like “The Outsiders” is trying this generation’s “Gone with the Wind.” I wouldn’t mind so much if it wasn’t distracting.

So I can’t recommend “The Outsiders” mainly because of its execution. I like Ponyboy, Johnny, Dallas, and Two Bit. I like Coppola’s direction. I love the book—the original making of this film was to cover the whole novel, which tells the story better. Apparently, Warner Bros. thought it’d be too long for the young audience’s interest and asked for the film to be cut from nearly two hours to an hour and a half, which isn’t enough time to tell this story. I’ll just quote Roger Ebert and argue that a good film isn’t long enough. And I’ll also say that “The Outsiders” needed more material to be a better movie.

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