Rambo Marathon: Review: First Blood (1982)

Edgar and I join forces yet again, this time for the Rambo Marathon, and you all know how dangerous that can be!

Screenplay By: Michael Kozoll, William Sackheim & Sylvester Stallone
Directed By: Ted Kotcheff

In retrospect perhaps tackling a Rambo Marathon wasn’t so hot of an idea. After watching First Blood I don’t know if I will be ready for the shift in tone that the following films will bring. I have small memories of First Blood and its kin, but not enough for me to actually say anything in a precise fashion about any of the films. I do know however that First Blood was a slow and serious action film tackling a very important issue in America in the early 1980’s. The following Rambo films, well, to say that they are over the top and all action would be a bit misleading, because they are even more bombastic than those words allude to. Then again, I don’t know what I’m worried about, because I love all types of movies and variety is the spice of life, and maybe the Rambo franchise moving in a more cartoonish direction was the right call, we shall see.

Back on point, First Blood is indeed much more than just an action flick. It has action flick moments, don’t get me wrong, but they are merely moments in what was otherwise a surprising testimonial to the life and times of Vietnam War vets in America in the early 1980’s. First Blood even avoids the all out battle ending that occupies most action flicks, opting instead for an ending with some action splashed around the breakdown of a man. I found First Blood to be a very interesting film, it explores some intriguing areas and ideas and it does so in a way that I wasn’t much expecting.

That would be the best way to describe First Blood, it is a film that was quite different than what I expected and in the end completely nixed whatever preconceived notions I had about First Blood going into it. First Blood isn’t a spectacularly well made film, it suffers a lot early on from some bad post-production voice dubbing, and Ted Kotchoff never really lets his camera go. His straight forward directorial style fits with the tone of the film, but especially during the few action scenes I was hoping he would open up a little and show a bit more verve. Still, those are essentially the only complaints I have with the film, so not too shabby at all.

Sylvester Stallone once again shows that he can in fact act when he so chooses. His portrayal of John Rambo in First Blood is a haunting one. He is a man who just wants peace but can’t find it in a society that has rejected him. Stallone does a wonderful job of channeling the central theme of First Blood through his character. In his portrayal we see all of the Vietnam War vets being shunned, not receiving any gratitude for serving their country and ultimately being tossed aside and discarded like so much refuse. It’s performances like this that make me a tad peeved that Stallone so easily lapsed into action hero mode for most of his career.

I do find myself struggling a bit with Richard Crenna’s Trautman. He needs to be there at the end, but I find him to be somewhat distracting throughout the rest of the film. His inclusion in so many scenes takes away a smidgen from the conflict of Rambo versus society in the form of the sheriff. But, like I said, Trautman is needed at the end, because without his presence then Rambo’s cathartic breakdown wouldn’t pack the punch it does. At the moment I am torn on Trautman, he’s needed but then he isn’t, maybe a future rewatch will help solidify my thoughts on his characters presence in the film.

You and I both know what is to come in all of the sequels, but let’s not lose sight of the type of film First Blood is. First Blood is a social commentary film with some action set pieces tossed in. The action is well done and it serves its purpose, but First Blood is truly enjoyed in its quieter moments when Rambo serves as a substitute for Vietnam War vets all over America. I didn’t expect to like First Blood as much as I did, or I should say to like it for the reasons that I do. I’m happy First Blood so successfully subverted my expectations, and if you have any preconceived notions about the Rambo franchise then give First Blood a shot, you’ll be pleasantly surprised, trust me.

Find out if Edgar was able to make it out alive over at Between The Seats.

Rating:

***1/2

Cheers,
Bill

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11 responses to “Rambo Marathon: Review: First Blood (1982)

  1. OK. This film tells a story…I wouldn’t rate it as high as you do…but it is OK..the Rambo films to come are pathetic childish jerkoff films.

    I am a Vietnam era Veteran…I served for three years and after release from the service, traveled around the US and western Canada…I enrolled in and graduated university, was involved in the anti-war movement. I NEVER saw Vietnam vets abused or spat upon. Years later while attending a weekend retreat for the social studies (I taught high school) the featured speaker had just finished researching the impacts of the Vietnam War on society…he said after extensive research could find NO documented evidence of Vietnam Vets being spat upon…it was an urban myth.

    Indeed, an acquaintance of mine claimed that it happened to him…I doubt his story as much of what he claimed of his military experience turned out to be exaggerated or made up to make him seem the hero.

    Just my two bits worth.

  2. Extremely interesting analysis of a movie that has come to be known as a pumping action movie rather than a good movie. And hence that’s precisely the reason that I found your detailed take very interesting.

    Ok, the piece is very well written and is quite engaging in its subtle yet focused persuasion. I liked the film, and in some sense (especially insofar as your POV’s on the quieter moments in the film, and the surprisingly un-climactic climax).

    But then again, I wouldn’t really go so far as to qualify it on par with your opinion. The one-man army aspect was quite scintillating to watch, but I wouldn’t really qualify that as great social commentary. Even, the initial abuses and humiliations that sends Rambo on a rampage was cinematic to say the least.

    Ok, so I guess my stance would be a bit more middle-ground than yours.

  3. Craig, I can’t attest to the treatment of Vietnam vets after they came home, I wasn’t around back then. But, I have had more than a few teachers, professors and other folks throughout the years tell me that they were abused upon coming home or that they witnessed other vets being abused/spat upon. I’ve had enough people whom I respect tell me that it happened to them, or that they witnessed it happen to others, that I believe them, and that’s all I can offer.

    Shubhajit, can you explain what you mean by “cinematic?” I think I know what you are saying, but I want to be sure before I respond.

  4. I think Crenna’s Trautmen is mostly there to create some sense in the shitstorm of disorder. Perhaps his true usefulness is only discovered at the end, but it wouldn’t have worked as well had they introduced him with 15 minutes to go.

  5. I definitely agree with that, I just wish he would have better fit in prior to the ending, because if he randomly appears for the ending then the ending doesn’t work at all.

  6. By “cinematic” I meant that, the abuses & humiliations that kickstarts Rambo’s rampage, was something that could happen only in the movies, or rather, tailormade for the cinema. Thus, in other words, it was quite the opposite of what “realistic” stands for.

  7. Hmmm, as someone who is currently studying the correctional practices of America, and as someone who has a few different “bad” interactions with the police over the years I can’t really agree. What happened to Rambo happens to a lot of prisoners, most times even more severely and it was a lot worse in local jails in the South before the ’90’s.

    It may be cinematic in the sense that usually only one or two of the abuses Rambo suffers would happen to a given prisoner, but they did actually happen. And I have no problem with him suffering a few more abuses than he would have in reality in order to make better cinema.

  8. Police brutality has every day in every city in the world. I’m not saying I hate cops, I’d rather have them around than not, but there are a handful of asshole cops in almost every police force. Of course the cop trying to snipe Rambo from the cliff represents an exaggeration of sorts, but police officers with a dirty chip on their shoulder and who show it to detainees do exist.

  9. I agree about the compelling Rambo character. That surprised me and drew me into the film. I no nothing of the actual history (as I wasn’t alive then) but I think in the context of the movie it works at showing how soldiers have a hard time becoming regular citizens once again.

  10. Mark Middlemas

    Thank you. This is very good (albeit overly sincere) film that, like Jaws, Poltergeist, etc. should never have gone beyond its original borders.

  11. Edgar – Most certainly they do exist, I’ve met my share, your point is very salient my friend.

    James – Yep, regardless of historical accuracy/context, the film does a great job of creating compelling characters that make us care about the plight of the soldier post-Vietnam.

    Mark – I agree with you to a point, but I do actually like Rambo III as a cheesy action film, and the latest Rambo is actually very good in a dark and twisted way.

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