When former Green Beret John Rambo is harassed by local law enforcement and arrested for vagrancy, the Vietnam vet snaps, runs for the hills and rat-a-tat-tats his way into the action-movie hall of fame. Hounded by a relentless sheriff, Rambo employs heavy-handed guerilla tactics to shake the cops off his tail.
It was a bad time for everyone, Rambo. It's all in the past now. First Blood is directed by Ted Kotcheff and adapted by Michael Kozoll, William Sackheim and Sylvester Stallone, from the novel written by David Morrell. It stars Stallone, Brian Dennehy, Richard Crenna, Bill McKinney and Jack Starrett. Cinematography is by Andrew Laszlo and the music scored by Jerry Goldsmith. Locations for the shoot were in British Columbia. John Rambo (Stallone), ex Vietnam war veteran, wanders into small town Oregon and is met with hostility by Sheriff Will Teasle (Dennehy). Arrested for a trumped up charge of vagrancy, Rambo is subjected to rough house treatment by Teasle and his staff. Fuelled by the haunted images of his time in Vietnam, Rambo breaks out of custody and makes for the hills, with Teasle and the force in hot pursuit. But this is terrain made for Rambo, an expert soldier trained to survive and kill, it's a war, Rambo versus the rest. The character of John Rambo would slip into pop culture and forever be associated with cartoon excess. By his own admission, Stallone himself felt they dropped the ball after the original film, and he's right. However, First Blood is often wrongly lumped in as part of that excessive package, because it's a film well worthy of revisits to see just how well it holds up as a taut and tense thriller. A film led by the bold theme of showing just how badly some of America's soldiers were received upon returning from Vietnam. First Blood delves deeper into the psyche of one such soldier whilst casting a caustic eye over small town Americana. The makers rarely let up on the troubling thematics at work, developing Rambo with clinical strokes as the plot unfolds, the trick in the tail being that the audience are firmly on his side as he goes about bringing his Vietnam to the picturesque place the locals call home. By 1982, it seems, America was on the side of the soldier. Stallone is a perfect fit for the role, his physicality unquestionable, he brings the brood and pain to Rambo like few actors of his ilk ever could. The sarcastic may point to his lack of dialogue hardly constituting a great acting performance, that's rot, because this is a fine character portrayal by Stallone. Dennehy is on fine form as the brutish bully Sheriff who just couldn't leave Rambo alone, while in the support ranks McKinney and Starrett leave good impressions. The interesting casting comes with Crenna as Rambo's "maker", Col. Samuel Trautman. The role was Kirk Douglas' hook line and sinker, but he wanted a different script and insisted that the film end the same way as the novel. In the end the makers just couldn't give in to his requests and he walked at the last minute. In stepped Crenna to put a bit of father figure pathos into Trautman, and subsequently earning himself a three picture deal and a place in pop culture in the process. It's also a film that's photographed with great skill by Lazlo. He captures the British Columbia mountains and forests with beautiful scope, but in keeping with the tone of the film his colour palette is suitably grey and green. Goldsmith provides an effective score, particularly when the narrative is focusing on Rambo's alienation, while the stunt work is very impressive. Even if we drift away from the theme of the piece, it still works extremely well as an action movie drama, be it motorcycle/helicopter pursuits, or jungle warfare, First Blood pumps the blood frequently. All neatly constructed by the director of Weekend at Bernie's! On release it grabbed the attention and became a monster box office hit Worldwide, today it still stands as a damn great movie, and you know what? Stallone and co were right and Kirk Douglas was wrong. 9/10