May 15th, 2008

FIRST BLOOD (1982) ****

I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for First Blood.  You know, before Sylvester Stallone turned Rambo into an All-American symbol of the 80’s.  Before he joined up with the Taliban to fight the Russians.  Before he singlehandedly blew up half of Burma.  Before all of that, there was just First Blood; a simple, brutally efficient action flick.  As much as I love the cartoonish violence of 2 and the sheer carnage of 4, from a straight-up story standpoint, this one is the best.


We all know what happens.  Rambo goes into a small hick town looking for a cheeseburger and gets hassled by The Man (Brian Dennehy).  He arrests Rambo and his men try to rough him up.  Rambo has Nam flashbacks like crazy, snaps, and escapes into the woods.  Dennehy and his men give chase but Rambo is a trained killer and sneaks up on Dennehy and holds him at knifepoint and tells him to back off.  He doesn’t and pretty soon, not only is the Hick Patrol after Rambo, but also the state police AND the National Guard.  For Rambo, there’s only one alternative:  Turn the town into his own private war zone.


As great as the scenes where Rambo grabs his M-60 and fires a thousand rounds into office buildings, blows up gas stations and used car lots, and other assorted mayhem are, the scenes of Dennehy slowly needling him are just as good.  Once we’ve established that Dennehy and his men are the scum of the Earth and deserve what they get (except for David Caruso, he was generally decent to Rambo), when Rambo finally goes apeshit, the audience is behind him 100%. 


Although Rambo was not quite the indestructible symbol of Americana that he’d later become, I still like the fact that in this movie, he jumps off a mountain and it doesn’t faze him, he gets shot and it doesn’t faze him and he gets hit by a bazooka and it doesn’t faze him. 


The center of the movie is not the bullets and the action though; it’s the relationship between Rambo and his superior, Trautman (Richard Crenna).  Though Trautman is mostly there for exposition purposes and to talk up just how much of a badass Rambo is (“Don’t forget a good supply of body bags!”), the final moments of the film where Trautman tries to talk some sense into him are expertly handled by director Ted (Weekend at Bernie’s) Kotcheff.  Stallone does some of the best acting of his career in this scene.  I was especially impressed with his ability to effectively emote even when you can only make out every seventh word he’s saying.  That’s talent. 


Yeah, I know you can point out the obvious Vietnam allegories that the filmmakers were trying to make, and it’s there if you want to really dissect it, but First Blood is first and foremost an action movie, and one that delivers.  Although I could’ve done without the extended scenes of Rambo meandering through a mineshaft for what seems like FOREVER, First Blood still remains one of the best flicks Sly ever did. 

Mostly 'cause everything Sly says in this flick is unintelligible, it’s up to Crenna to deliver the best line of the movie:  “He’d eat things that’d make a billy goat puke!”