a critiQal film review First Blood (1982)

Plot: Haunted by his memories of Vietnam, ex-Green Beret John Rambo (Stallone) is struggling to fit into life back home. When he is unjustly imprisoned by a small-town sheriff (Dennehy), he escapes into the nearby woods, setting off a massive manhunt. Now Rambo must rely on all of his skills if he's going to make it out alive.

535 words (Est. Reading Time 2m 40s)

Funny how things happen, don’t they? As my wife was headed off to watch Sex and the City (2008) with her friends (review hopefully forthcoming), I sat down to watch the latest John Rambo flick, Rambo (2008)…and discovered our DVD player was kaput.

Heading on over to Circuit City®, I picked up a new DVD-R for cheap, and noticed that the Rambo – The Complete Collector’s Set was on sale, so picked that up as well. So, instead of heading straight for the newest film, I figured I’d start from the beginning.

With First Blood, the audience is introduced to John Rambo, portrayed by Sylvester Stallone – and he’s not exactly the man audiences come to know over the next 2 films.

Haunted by his Vietnam experience, Rambo is just trying to get on with his life. Instead, he encounters downright cruelty from some hick small-town sheriff (played decently enough by Brian Dennehy), and ends up igniting a small little war of his own in the town.

Even when Rambo brings the battle to the sheriff, he’s much more deliberate than his character in the next 2 films. Sure, there are some major explosions, but unlike the Rambo audiences remember, this time he’s doing it for a reason (mainly to distract his foes). It’s a more calculating Rambo, and it’s nice to see wasn’t always about just violence and destruction.

Rather than the gung-ho action hero audiences remember from the over-the-top Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985), John Rambo is a much gentler soul in this first film. Lost and disoriented after horrific torture in Vietnam, he’s just struggling to stay afloat in a world he no longer understands. Stallone brings this out in his character throughout the film, and does a better job of portraying the tortured soul than most audiences will remember.

Richard Crenna, also a mainstay in the series, makes his first appearance in First Blood as well, as a man caught between trying to clear up the mess this soldier has gotten himself into while at the same time trying to determine if John Rambo has finally gone off the deep end.

One high point for re-watching this series so many years later is spotting the now familiar faces just getting their start in these films. For First Blood, the newcomer is David Caruso, his red hair easy to spot long before it became noticeable in either “NYPD Blue” (TV) or his latest, “CSI: Miami” (TV).

As mentioned above, First Blood is less about gung-ho violence for the sake of violence, and more of a story of a Vietnam vet who turns to the only thing he knows after being abused by members of the local law.

With it’s much smaller body count and more intense plot, it seems atypical of it’s sequels…and when the viewer notices First Blood is based on a novel, it makes a little more sense. While the sequels went off in their own direction (and straight from screenplays), this first film had a solid basis behind it.

If you haven’t seen First Blood in a while, go take another look. It’s a much more intense look at the man John Rambo, rather than the killing machine he would become in Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) and Rambo III (1988).

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