REVIEW: First Blood [1982]

“We’re not hunting him, he’s hunting us”

If I’m going to see the fourth installment of a film franchise, I should at least check out the one that started it all. That fact brings me to finally seeing the 80’s classic First Blood. It wears its decade on its sleeve with the acting, broad humor at times, and cheesy credit song “It’s a Long Road.” Despite all that, though, the movie lives up to the hype and fires on all cylinders. I had no clue that the story pitted one Green Beret against a hick town of bigot cops. When I thought Rambo and I had visions of one-man wars versus countries or platoons of soldiers, not civilians out with a vendetta. Rambo just wanted a friend in the world that saw him fight for his country with honor and return home to heckling and protest. All he did overseas was spit on by his return and he became a stereotype drifter, an untouchable to society. The truth of that comes out when a Sheriff in Washington sees him crossing the street and escorts him out of town, refusing to allow him to even have one meal. He kept pushing and pushing, enough so that Rambo just couldn’t take anymore.

As far as the premise goes, this one is quite effective. Based off a novel, I can see where the story would be strong despite the subsequent sequels for which I hear are horrible. To have a man beaten, on the brink of giving up on life, find his way back to the horrors he has been trying his hardest to forget is a clichéd setup for sure, but it is all we need to set this thing in motion. With some nice quick cuts, we are shown the torture he endured in Vietnam juxtaposed with the handling by the local authorities on a trumped up vagrancy charge for looking unclean. They drew first blood and it is up to him to get himself out, with or without taking other people with him. Rambo understands that these people are civilians and decides to only incapacitate them rather than kill all in his wake. These are not the Viet Cong, they are like him, however, they know nothing about what he has gone through in order to allow them to sit back at home feeling free. If nothing else, this film is here to show people that no matter what your views on a war may be, no matter how much one thinks it is not our fight, if our troops are there, they deserve our full support. They are doing a job and a service that we are not willing to do ourselves as we sit and watch tv feeds, shaking our heads that it is all for nothing. If we give even one inch, they will take a mile, you can’t lay down, ever. They fight for us and deserve to be treated as heroes.

With all that said, can one really condone what John Rambo does in this film? No. Not even his old superior Colonel Trautman, brilliantly portrayed by Richard Crenna, can accept what he is doing. He doesn’t come in to set his boy free; he arrives to get him into custody so the fight will stop. The private war that has commenced needs to come with consequences. The punishment just needs to fit the crime. Rambo does nothing wrong except to hope for some shred of decency from humanity. That idealism is what causes all the trouble. Sheriff Teasle happens to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and all hell breaks loose. It is a matter of survival at first, but with the unrelenting pace, it soon turns into a search for justice by a warped mind doing the only job he knows how. I laughed when I heard the stats that the character kills just one person in this film. I mean how can Rambo, the ultimate badass, kill just one person? The laugh is on me, though, because I don’t even count that one as his, it was the helicopter pilot’s fault for jerking the aircraft. Rambo may destroy an entire town, but a cold-blooded murderer he is not—at least not until part two (with the great name of Rambo: First Blood II, a dual title that confuses the heck out of people on what the original truly was called).

First Blood has become so entrenched in popular culture and the lexicon of cinema that even though I had never seen the film, I could swear I knew Crenna’s monologue about Rambo verbatim. I’m sure it was parodied multiple times and probably shown at sporting events or something, but I just knew the entire speech—pretty crazy since I had never seen it before. Besides his nice turn during and after that sequence, we get a powerhouse performance from Brian Dennehy as the sheriff. This guy is good and it is too bad he was never used to full potential in the industry. Sure he did a lot of films, but nothing that he stood out from the pack with. As for the star, Sylvester Stallone shows why he was pound for pound the best action star of the 80’s. Between this series and Rocky, he was stellar. From the charisma and shy modesty with which he begins the film, searching for his friend, to the stoic killing machine on the warpath, to the broken man unable to believe what has happened to the world around him, Sly runs the gamut effectively and perfectly. By far one of the best action films I’ve seen, First Blood stands the test of time and delivers on the cult status it holds. Surprisingly, I am now really looking forward to Rambo (part four) and definitely checking it out in a couple of days.

First Blood 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

[1] Sylvester Stallone is John Rambo in Rambo: First Blood
[2] Brian Dennehy is Sheriff Teasle and Sylvester Stallone is John Rambo in First Blood


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