Over the years the name Rambo has become synonymous with the phenomenon called “one man army”. A type of man who populated the majority of 80’s action movies. Arnold, Chuck, Dolph, Seagal and of course Sylvester Stallone have been known to wade though armies of bad guys, sometimes even bringing complete wars to an end. The funny thing is that the first “Rambo” movie is hardly the kind of movie one would think about when discussing one man army movies. There are no armies here for Rambo to take on, no communists or Vietcong for him to tackle, just some small town police force. And unlike all the other “Rambo” movies this one is pretty gritty and low-key as well.
The movie begins with John J. Rambo drifting (the walking kind, not the Fast & Furious kind) to a small town where he’s visiting an old army buddy. He receives an emotional blow when he hears that his buddy died last year of cancer. Depressed he continues and walks into the small quiet town of Hope. Here’s he’s quickly noticed by local sheriff Will Teasle (Brian Dennehy) who mistakes him for a vagrant and escorts him to the other side of town with the not so friendly advice that he shouldn’t return. Looking for a hot meal John decides to do just that and gets himself arrested. In custody he receives a brutal beating resulting in flashbacks from Vietnam which make him go crazy. He escapes from custody by beating the shit out of every officer in his way and heads off into the woods on a motor cycle. This is the start of a cat and mouse game for the remainder of the movie, where the cops keep on bringing in bigger and bigger guns against one man who is trained to kill.
First Blood still holds up pretty well after more than 30 years. It’s a fast paced movie with memorable characters and an intriguing setup. The only thing lost in all those years is why Rambo is treated the way he is. This movie deals with PTSD which is still an issue today, but the ending of the Vietnam war and how people looked at veterans returning from it is lost on the fresh (and young) viewer, especially the non-Americans. The person I was watching it with asked me what Teasle was referring to when he mentioned Rambo’s flag on his jacket could get him into trouble. I couldn’t answer her as I had forgotten as well.
The strength of this movie lies in its approach of the material. This isn’t a shiny big budget extravaganza with a lead spouting one-liners, this is a grim tale of survival in the bleak forests of Northern America. Stallone, with his sad droopy face, is perfect as John Rambo; A guy disillusioned by the way he’s been treated after returning from the war and the friends he has lost. Vietnam made him a hero, but back home people see him as a a vagrant. Add to that the scumbag police personnel and you have one sympathetic lead for which you root for.
The only fault Rambo makes is when he’s presumed dead halfway through the movie. He decides to wreak full havoc on the town and its inhabitants. I know the movie had to have some showdown between him and Teasle but the obvious choice would be to just leave quietly now nobody’s looking for you anymore. Not go back and blow up half a town.
Those are just minor remarks about a movie that never seems to bore me no many times I’ve seen this movie. Despite the lack of dialogue for Stallone in what is an almost purely physical role, the movie is filled with memorable quotes, most if not all of them brought with the right tone by Col. Trautman (Richard Crenna).