Film Review: First Blood

How can you not love Stallone?

Here’s something I have to admit at the start: I’ve gone all my life thinking the first Rambo film in 1982 was called Rambo: First Blood. I had no idea it was called just First Blood. If you ask me, that’s a rather terrible title. And also, it’s not true, is it? John Rambo (played by the great Sylvester Stallone) even argues that later to Colonel Sam Trautman (played by Richard Crenna), saying it was the town’s police who drew “first blood.” But did they? They were certainly pushing too hard against Rambo, as he likes to say, but it was Rambo who bloodied one of the cops up with a nasty back elbow to the mouth/nose region first when escaping the police department.

Rambo drew first blood!

Anyway, so I’m pretty sure I’ve seen First Blood before, but I’m not sure if I’ve seen it all the way through (and even if I did, I don’t remember). I watched it last night, and was rather enthralled. The short premise is that Rambo, who is a Congressional Medal of Honor winner and Green Beret, comes into Hope, Washington looking for one of his old comrades, but learns he died of cancer. As he’s walking through town, the town’s sheriff, Will Teasle (played by Brian Dennehy) accosts him for no reason other than he’s a “drifter.”

Aside from killing a dog and a hog, we all agree Rambo didn’t really do anything wrong, right? Granted, by the end, when he’s trying to blow up the town, and who knows what would’ve happened if Trautman wasn’t there. But still. If Teasle never accosts him as Rambo’s trying to find a place to eat, none of this happens. He eats, maybe lingers for a bit, and then moves on to Portland. Instead, Teasle accosts him, arrests him, then the other deputies get aggressive with him, reminding Rambo of his time in a Vietnamese prisoner of war camp, and all hell breaks loose.

This psycho (not Rambo).

Teasle has only himself to blame. He argued to Rambo that he was trying to protect Hope from “guys like” Rambo, but instead, he brought war to Hope. And also, Teasle employed Deputy Sergeant Art Galt (played by Jack Starrett), who was a psychopath and abusing Rambo. You gotta love how much power through a badge and a gun imbues people with misguided confidence. Teasle and Galt are both old, overweight gentlemen, and yet, without even knowing Rambo is a Green Beret, would you mess with him like that on sight sans the badge and gun? It’s amazing.

I know I get on these kicks, but there’s something about older films that just aren’t really a “thing” anymore with modern films, and in some ways, modern films are lesser for it.

Here are the three items I had in mind:

  • Practical effects make all the difference, especially in action and horror movies. Car chases for one. There’s been some impressive modern car chases, but do they look as cool as the ones from this time period? The one here where Teasle chases Rambo, who has commandeered a man’s motorcycle, through the backwoods area of Hope is great.
  • Wide shots don’t seem to be much of a thing anymore? A lot of shots are tight and close-up, whereas movies “back in the day” used a lot of wide angle shots where you can eat up the scene. This obviously plays to great effect in horror movies, but it also works as a technical devise in other movies, including here.
  • Patience and less edits goes a long way. Sit on a scene, and let it breathe, even the action scenes. Instead of 86 cuts to show a guy climbing a fence (slight exaggeration, but a real thing that happened in a modern film), let’s have a a handful of longer cuts.

And that is my technical movie rant spurred on by … Rambo.

Gorgeous setting for this film.

So, one criticism I have of the film is the National Guardsman who come to take on Rambo, and even FIRE A ROCKET LAUNCHER AT HIM. For one, the National Guard can only be called into a situation by the governor of the state. It’s weird then that they were brought in here by the local sheriff unless they mentioned the governor officially doing it and I missed it. And two, how unprofessional they were, again, in FIRING A ROCKET LAUNCHER AT HIM. That’s all rather unrealistic to me and gets us away from the rather tight story being told up to that point.

One other criticism I have of the film is that aside from the widow at the beginning, and a waitress toward the back half of the film, this has to be one of the most sparse films I can recall seeing as far as having women in it? I’m surprised Rambo didn’t even have a perfunctory love interest, as was cliche at the time.

All of that said, the film is worth every penny for the Stallone monologue at the end about how hard it’s been coming back from war and acclimating to society. That gave me goosebumps. Stallone is the man, and he certainly carries the film, although Dennehy is no slouch, and is a great foil as the real villain of the film.

The reason the film works is precisely that: Rambo never kills anyone intentionally, and in fact, makes a point of saying he easily could have killed everyone one-by-one, if he had wanted to. That’s another part of the film I found interesting. Once Rambo is on the run and the police department is after him, it almost plays like one of the late ’70s/early ’80s slasher films because Rambo is stalking them one-by-one. I enjoyed it on that level. Then the latter half gets more action-packed and what we would come to expect of a 1980s action movie.

But it’s a smart action movie, again, anchored by how broken Rambo is. He cries! Also, if there’s a greater name for an action hero than Rambo, I don’t know what it is.

So, what do you think of the first Rambo film, First Blood?

See, men? Even Rambo cries.

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