Wednesday, December 14, 2011
(October 1982, U.S.)
There was a period of about six years, from 1976 to 1982 when I can honestly say I respected Sylvester Stallone as an actor. ROCKY (1976) and F.I.S.T. (1978) are absolute top-notch performances. NIGHTHAWKS (1981) is one of the best police/crime thrillers I've ever seen. And even though I don't care for the film any longer, ROCKY III (1982) had its place in my heart back in the day. So it's very safe to say that I would consider FIRST BLOOD Stallone's last great film as an actor (thought I did like COPLAND, he was just one of a four ensemble cast). This is our introduction to the character of John Rambo before he (unfortunately) became a major pop-culture slab of meat.
Beyond the action blood and guts that you may be familiar with, FIRST BLOOD offers Stallone the opportunity to act and perform without saying a whole lot. Sounds easy on paper, I'm sure, but it represents a challenge because his inner silence not only expresses the man he is as he tries to evade capture by the local morons of the police force, but also the man he was as a soldier of the United States Army Special Forces in Vietnam. When we first meet John Rambo, we're given every indication that he's an unstable psychopath, and perhaps that's not altogether untrue. But because there are two sides to this story, the mistreatment and abuse he undergoes after his (unjust) arrest is very clear. These are local law enforcement morons who push Rambo to his limit simply because they don't want his type, a drifter, in their small, quiet and boring town. The fact is, though, if you look very carefully at the action in the film, you'll find that Rambo never actuall KILLS anybody with his own bare hands. The abusive cop who falls to his death from a helicopter is only because Rambo threw a rock at it in his own defense. All other police officers in the hunt are maimed and injured only by Rambo's hands.
Brian Dennehy's performance as Sheriff Will Teasle is effective because you know he's an unfair and pushy prick while still giving the viewer a sense of sympathy for his determination to not only protect his little town from Rambo's rage, but to protect his own life, as well. Stallone, as mentioned already, is quiet through most of the film, but it does all build up to a rather gripping speech that expresses his pain and anguish of not only his Vietnam past, but also his struggle to survive in the world he came back to after the war.
Now I must tell you that the story of John Rambo, for me, begins and ends with FIRST BLOOD. Back in 1985, I admitedly got swept up by "Rambo-mania" just like the rest of the world. I went to see RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD-PART II on screen twice. I had the movie poster on my college dorm wall, and I couldn't wait to own a copy of the film when it became available on VHS. But as I got older and my film tastes became a little more sophisticated, I discovered that the flaws of the second film greatly outweighed any of the American "gung-ho" excitement that had me going all those years in the late 1980s. Bottom line is that RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD-PART II is a film with bad dialogue and bad acting, and that's enough of a reason to put me off of any film, no matter how popular it is. RAMBO III (1988); I can barely even remember what that story was about. That's how much of an impression it left on me, even way back then. RAMBO (2008) I didn't even bother to see (still haven't) though I always thought that the story should have centered around the events of September 11, 2001 and Rambo's response to it. Shit, that would have been just like watching John Wayne on the big screen after the United States entered World War II.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Colonel Trautman: "You want a war you can't win?"
Sheriff Teasle: "Are you telling me that two hundred of our men against your boy is a no-win situation for us?"
Trautman: "You send that many, don't forget one thing."
Trautman: "A good supply of body bags!"