First Blood (1982)

Director:  Ted Kotcheff
Cast:  Sylvester StalloneBrian DennehyRichard Crenna
Plot:  A mentally unstable Vietnam war vet, when abused with a small town's police force, begins a one man war with it.

Genre:  Action / Thriller
Awards:  -
Runtime:  93min
Rating:  PG for violence.

In 1982, action star Sylvester Stallone had a bumper year.  First, he wrote and directed himself in Rocky III.  But more importantly, he took up one of the most iconic action roles of all time – John Rambo. 

The film is First Blood, directed by Ted Kotcheff, a one-trick pony who has never made anything half as good ever since, eventually making movies for television.  Co-written by Stallone, First Blood is not in the league of its own in terms of Hollywood action cinema of the 1980s, but it is clearly a commendable film that defies some genre conventions.

First Blood centers on John Rambo, a Vietnam War veteran who walks into a sleepy county in search of a lost comrade.  The county’s sheriff, Teasle (Brian Dennehy), is suspicious of him and brings him into custody.  There he is abused, and as nightmares of Vietnam come back to haunt him, he breaks loose and wages a one-man war with the small town’s authorities. 

Now this is one guy you wouldn’t want to mess with.  But Teasle, who wants to get his man his own way, ignores advice from a lieutenant-colonel who trained Rambo many years ago.  Expect fireworks…

First Blood sees Stallone in good form as he shows why his character is a decorated war veteran.  With the middle act shot almost entirely in the woods, Rambo is hunted down by armed men, yet the joke is on Teasle, as he finds his team and himself being hunted. 

For an action film, First Blood does not contain as much action as a traditional genre film.  There are gunfights, explosions, and car chases, but Kotcheff’s film does not need all that to carry itself.  It successfully transcends its action underpinnings to deliver a quite powerful story of its lead character.

The measure of an excellent action flick lies not in its promise of spectacularity, but whether the audience cares enough to understand the “hero” or “anti-hero”.  Such is the complexity of Rambo’s character that he is a hero, a villain, and a victim all at once.  His non-provocative stance is threatened when Teasle draws “first blood”. 

Rambo reacts like any war veteran with psychological battle scars would when provoked unfairly – without hesitation and with extreme prejudice.  Rambo’s ruthless nature takes a backseat in the epilogue; Stallone delivers his most sympathetic and emotional performance in the last ten minutes since Rocky.  With that, Rambo’s story is complete.  And a legend is born.


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