Saturday, June 19, 2010

First Blood

First Blood is the first film of the Rambo franchise and sticks out among the rest as a psychological thriller rather than a straight action flick. It is the only one that does not glorify the violence. Rambo is not the invincible super warrior single-handedly defeating the declared enemies of the United States, but an emotionally disturbed soldier who cannot deal with having fought and been ‘defeated” in an unpopular war.

The film starts out with Rambo, a former Army Special Forces member, going to visit a comrade from his old unit. He learns that his friend has died a particularly horrific death, having been eaten away by cancer caused by exposure to Agent Orange. We do not learn until later this means Rambo is the last man left alive from his old unit.

Rambo enters a small town and is picked up by Sheriff Teasle, played with redneck glee by Brian Dennehy. Teasle spies Rambo’s shaggy hair and army jacket and assumes he is a trouble making drifter. He urges him to leave town. After a minor tussle, he arrests Rambo for carrying a huge pig sticker asa concealed weapon.

The police unfairly brutalize Rambo because he is generally uncooperative. Their actions, particularly an attempt to dry save Rambo, cause a flashback to a torture experience from Rambo’s POW experience. He assaults the officers and breaks out of the police station.

The hunt is on. Rambo becomes the crazed survivalist he is trained to be. Once, when he tries to surrender after killing a cop in self-defense and another when he nearly killsa young hunter before he realizes the kid is not his enemy. Otherwise, he is almost running on autopilot defending himself from the cops and National Guard. We are supposed to be rooting for him, but he is so screwed up, I was really hoping he would be locked up before he wipes out half the authorities in the Pacific Northwest.

Rambo’s only ally is Col. Trautman, his former commanding officer. He speaks of Rambo’s murderous skills with such admiration, you realize that not only isRambo’s emotional state largely his fault, he appears to be proud of the fact. Subsequent films will not present his character in any etter light, either.

The rampage explodes throughout the now deserted town and ends in the empty police station with Trautman confronting a sobbing Rambo. He relates a heartbreaking story about how he is the only one of his unit left alive. He wishes he had died in the jungle, too, because he cannot even hold down a job selling French fries eve though e was a hero in Vietnam.

At least it is heartbreaking if you read it in the script. You cannot makes heads or tails out of the semi-coherent ramblings onscreen. Sylvester Stallone cannot enunciate to save his soul during highly emotional scenes in ay of his movies. I cite this as the worst example. It is a shame, too, because the tearful outburst lays out his motivation for his violet actions throughout the movie.

I like First Blood. Sometimes it borders on becoming exploitation film, but then I compare it to the live action comic books the sequels often are and then it feels like a masterpiece instead. It is not a fun movie to watch, but it is worthwhile to see the damage that can be done when you remove the humanity from the soldier and then turn him loose into society.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

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