For our newest installment in this series, we have yet another of the most iconic action films of all time: First Blood, aka Rambo. I sat down to watch Rambo last night, expecting an over-the-top macho-man kill fest along the same lines as nearly any movie Arnold Schwartzenegger did during the 80’s. What I saw, however, was a beast of an entirely different nature. This isn’t the story of a one-man-killing machine fighting to save his daughter, or the president, or anyone or anything in particular from some evil drug lord or master criminal. Instead, Rambo is the story of an emotionally and physically scarred Vietnam Vet who reverts to the only thing he knows how to do when he is hassled by a small town’s police department. On top of being an exciting action flick, Rambo also shines a spotlight on the shameful neglect our country gives its veterans and the disconnect they face when returned to their civilian lives.
Years after the end of the Vietnam War, where he served as a member of the elite Green Berets, John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) drops by the small town of Hope, Washington (woot woot for my home state!) hoping to meet a friend from his old company. When he discovers that his friend has died of cancer contracted in Vietnam, he heads off to grab a bite to eat before leaving town. On the way, he is accosted by the town’s Sheriff Teasle (Brian Dennehy), who arrests Rambo for vagrancy when he refuses to leave town. After further abuse by other members of the police department trigger a couple of good ol’ ‘nam flashbacks, Rambo forceably escapes custody and is chased into the mountains by the local police. As the pursuit continues, the national guard is soon called in to bring the man in, along with the help of Rambo’s sympathetic commander, Colonel Trautman (Richard Crenna). Using his training, Rambo is forced to make the transition from escaping unfair persecution to fighting for his life against the very people he once fought for.
While Bruce Willis offered a very entertaining presence as John McClane in Die Hard, Stallone brings a very different breed of action hero to the table here. Rambo is still a deadly, survivalist badass who seems to have no problem firing an M60 machine gun w/o any sort of mount, but underneath all of the training lies a soul that is broken and lost. The entire conflict of the film stems from a series of over-reactions in which Rambo is just as implicit in as the local police. These overreactions make sense, however, as coming from someone who has been forged in the fires of war only to be cut off entirely once he is no longer needed. Because of that, we often find ourselves rooting for Rambo even when he makes some incredibly unwise decisions (though he does gain some sympathy in that he doesn’t kill a single person in the entire movie). His emotional collapse in front of Trautman near the end of the film is a great summation of what his character is going through.
Dennehy is also an interesting bad guy, as he really doesn’t do anything more evil than just being a xenophobic dick. Sure, he starts everything when he harasses Rambo, but he never really does anything that I couldn’t see an average over-protective Small Town Sheriff doing. He’s a small man who bull-headedly fights against anything he doesn’t understand, but he’s still no more of a villain than Rambo is a hero.
Trautman is Trautman, there’s really not that much to say about him. As the one person in Rambo’s corner, he’s a very welcome presence and his “I told you so” interactions with Teasle are quite fun to watch. As a quick note though, both Bruce Greenwood (Star Trek) and David Caruso (CSI: Miami) are both in this movie as incredibly young people, see if you can spot them!
The Verdict: 8.0/10 Pretty Damn Great
+ Stallone breaks the action hero mold as Rambo
+ Very realistic and unbiased premise
+ More than enough Rambo vs. The World action to go around
– Most of the character development of Rambo takes place in the last 5 minutes