First Blood (1982)
Release Date: October 22nd, 1982 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Ted Kotcheff Actors: Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna, Brian Dennehy, Jack Starrett, Michael Talbott, Bill McKinney
irtually synonymous with “one man army,” pushed-to-the-edge survivalist John Rambo raised the bar significantly for action heroes, with Stallone’s entertainingly stoic performance helping “First Blood” to become one of the most influential films of its day. On the surface, it’s an epic wilderness showdown, but underneath the layers of carnage resides a smart social commentary that confronts the hardships and rejection faced by returning Vietnam veterans, while also examining the hubris and contempt from those unwilling to accept their reintegration. Partly over-the-top but surprisingly realistic in its depiction of war-born mental traumas, it’s a psychological thriller as much as it is a riveting actioner.
Upon journeying home from the brutal Vietnam War and discovering his only surviving comrade has recently passed away, John J. Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) is met with harsh discrimination and disdain from the police of the small town of Hope, Washington. When Sheriff Will Teasle (Brian Dennehy) pushes the silent veteran to the breaking point with verbal and physical abuse, Rambo’s military instincts take over. He violently escapes his confines and flees into the woods, causing the arrogant lawman to orchestrate a vigorous manhunt. Underestimating Rambo’s finely honed skills and superior training, Teasle quickly loses several of his officers and brushes with death himself. Unwilling to admit defeat and callously ignoring the advice of Rambo’s former commander, Colonel Trautman (Richard Crenna), Teasle utilizes everything from the state police and national guard to sniper rifles and rocket launchers in a crazed attempt to bring down the anchored warrior.
While Stallone might not be widely applauded for his acting abilities, a better match for the cunning, inarticulate soldier would have been hard to find. “Sly” manages to exhibit a ferocious solemnity and sincere delivery as the misunderstood juggernaut cornered like a wild animal. Later entries in the “Rambo” legacy attempted to retain this intriguing intimidation but gave up style for more frequent explosions. In fact, the audience’s first introduction to this iconic antihero reveals a good-natured though distant persona and provides almost no foreshadowing of the bloodshed to come.
“He’s one man. And he’s wounded.” Great heroes rarely exist without exceptional villains and Dennehy turns in an excellent portrayal as the egotistical, ignorant cop, who will stop at nothing to apprehend his prey, even if it endangers his staff and the civilians he has sworn to protect. Nothing phases the sheriff’s ambition; he proceeds with his onslaught even after he is spared from death by Rambo – all while a deputy observes, “We ain’t huntin’ him, he’s huntin’ us.” Blinding pride is the antagonist’s undoing and he only begins to acknowledge his disastrous mistakes when his town literally crumbles around him.
In a strong supporting role, Crenna’s Trautman serves dually as advisor and seer, explaining and warning about the inevitable outcome of confrontation. He’s something of a manifested conscience and voice of reason (amidst two extreme sociopolitical positions), further exposing the emotions and humanism left in the troubled militant. And he’s the only character other than the lead to traverse all three films of the original trilogy.
If one were to reduce “First Blood’s” genre to simply action, it still holds its own with the best of that category. A suspenseful chase fills the majority of the film, with Rambo fending off all manner of law enforcement (armed to the teeth with heavy-duty weaponry), as well as sequences of outmaneuvering helicopters, Dobermans, rats, and mine shaft cave-ins. Car chases occur, buildings explode, machineguns empty, and an unprepared police force is brought to its knees. But the notes of opposing justifications and the unfairness and thanklessness of soldiering (during Vietnam especially), along with the engaging battle of wits and brawn between two men unwilling to budge, are routinely more poignant than the adventure – aiding in the film’s connection with a wider audience and unexpected commercial success.
– The Massie Twins