First Blood (1982)

First Blood (1982)

  • Score: 4/5
  • Genre: 4/5
  • Did I enjoy it: Definitely.
  • Did it move me: At times.
  • Rewatch:  Yes.
  • Art/Pop: Pop, with some darkness
  • Noteworthy/Significant: Seed film for the 80s action blockbuster genre

There are the Rambo movies, the many sequels of First Blood. They are cheesy 80s style action films (whenever made) of varying quality, but none of any particular quality. Then there is First Blood, which is a different kettle of fish. I notice that it has been rebranded as Rambo: First Blood, which is a patent shame. The Rambo movies are crap — big budget, sometimes enjoyable, and even influential crap, but crap nevertheless. First Blood is a great movie.

Sylvester Stallone, who rose to fame only a few years earlier for his wonderful work on the original Rocky (for which he received an academy award nomination), plays John Rambo, a Vietnam vet who has been wandering the country trying to re-connect with his old war buddies after facing the unfortunately normal re-assimilation-into-civilian-life problems that seemed to have struck the Vietnam-era soldiers the hardest, probably due to the difficult circumstances surrounding the war and the country’s politics in the 1970s. Having just watched his last chance to reconnect fizzle with the news that the last comrade he had to track down succumbed to cancer from Agent Orange, Rambo finds himself hassled by a small town Sheriff as a perceived vagabond and drifter, an assessment which is not completely untrue. The situation soon spirals out of control.

What makes First Blood different from its kin, and certainly its sequels, is the unexpected nuance and subtlety that is there if you only look for it. One would expect this to be easy: good guy misunderstood vet vs. bad guy small-minded corrupt local cops. 

Except that while Brain Dennehy’s Sheriff Will Teasle could have easily been a paper cutout “bad sheriff” he is not. He makes mistakes, but he clearly means to do good for his town. He is judgmental, but in a human foible way. Missteps by him and his men are compounded by very human reactions in a quickly escalating crises where cooler heads do not have time to prevail. The simple truth is that as mildly wrong as Sheriff Teasle’s initial act is, Rambo is depressed, despondent and looking for something to bounce off of. While there is one particularly bad cop on the force, most are just regular Joes. If anything, the film seems to show more cynicism toward the larger entities, including the National Guard, the Feds and and the media, something that is reflective of the era and still resonates today.  Richard Crenna’s DC military officer comes across as an almost intentional stereotype of Washington arrogance, and the scenes between him and Dennehy’s Sheriff Teasle are particularly well-played. 

The action stands the test of time. Coming from the pre-John Woo/Matrix days, it is not super flashy, but has a grit to it that is engaging and visceral. 

Don’t get me wrong, this film does not have the impact of something like The Deer Hunter, but it also is more action-oriented, mainstream and accessible. A powerful, well-edited and and engaging mix of message and entertainment. 

Review Date: 07/07/2019

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