Francis Coppola has made a well acted and crafted but highly conventional film out of S.E. Hinton’s popular youth novel, The Outsiders. Although set in the mid-1960s, pic feels very much like a 1950s drama about problem kids.
Screenplay is extremely faithful to the source material, even down to having the film open with the leading character and narrator, C. Thomas Howell, reciting the first lines of his literary effort while we see him writing them.
But dialog which reads naturally and evocatively on the page doesn’t play as well on screen, and there’s a decided difficulty of tone during the early sequences, as Howell and his buddies (Matt Dillon and Ralph Macchio) horse around town, sneak into a drive-in and have an unpleasant confrontation with the Socs, rival gang from the well-heeled part of town.
When the Socs attack Howell and Macchio in the middle of the night, latter ends up killing a boy to save his friend, and the two flee to a hideaway in an abandoned rural church. It is during this mid-section that the film starts coming to life, largely due to the integrity of the performances by Howell and Macchio.
Howell is truly impressive, a bulwark of relative stability in a sea of posturing and pretense. Macchio is also outstanding as his doomed friend, and Patrick Swayze is fine as the oldest brother forced into the role of parent.