- Movie Rating -

First Blood (1982)

| October 22, 1982

First Blood has a very comfortable connection and a very disturbing distance from the films that seem to have inspired it.  It was inspired, I think, by the Vietnam films of the late 70s, movies that tried to deal with the war in intimate terms, movies like The Deer Hunter, Coming Home, Go Tell the Spartans and Rolling Thunder.  Its dramatic core puts it in the company of those films, but its balls-out, audience pleasing action plot is what keeps it apart.  The producers seem to want to have it both ways. They want an entertaining introspection about the war in Vietnam.  I’m not sure that it works.   

Stallone plays John Rambo; a Vietnam vet was discharged from the Army seven years ago and suffers wounds both on the outside and on the inside.  He travels on foot to a small town to visit a friend only to learn that his buddy recently died from cancer contracted after an Agent Orange attack.  He is accosted by the police who deem him a drifter, driven out of town and then arrested when he tries to return.  The charge is vagrancy, resisting arrest and possession of a deadly weapon.  Deadly?  How about a knife as big as your arm?  At the police station, Rambo is abused by the cops which triggers flashbacks to his time as a POW.  So, he trashes the cops, escapes from custody, steals a motorcycle and flees into the woods.

This is, of course, ridiculous in that action movie sort of way.  It’s also ridiculous that the Sheriff Teasle (Brian Dennehy) leads his men into the woods the flush Rambo out only to discover that the man is a one-man-wrecking crew.  He might have figured this out from the battle scars, the ten-inch knife and the fact that he thrashed a bunch of cops and escaped.  They don’t keep this in mind at all even after Rambo takes out Cop #4 or Cop #5.  It’s the kind of action stuff that results in logical questions: How does Rambo know which tree that the cop will stop under so he can pounce out of the branches on top of him?

Despite its logical flaws, the movie is pretty exciting.  The problem is that all that slick, staged fighting is counter-measured by the issue that the movie has to deal with.  Rambo is confronted by his old commander (Richard Crenna) who urges him to come to grips with what happened.  This leads to a long and unconvincing monologue in which Rambo tearfully mourns the war he was forced to endure and the way that American has treated him since coming home from Vietnam.  I guess it’s effective in a sense but Stallone can’t handle this kind of heavy drama.  He’s better at quiet introspection, as he did just before the fight with Apollo in Rocky but he can’t handle big emotional monologues, like the one on the beach in Rocky III.  Here his tearful revelation about his friend who got blown up is tempered by his inability to handle heavy dialogue.  He whimpers and whines and it draws bad laughs.

The two sides don’t really fit: the comic book action and the heavier Vietnam issues.  They make for a very mixed bag and probably reveal an ill-fitting collaboration between a studio that wants an action pictures and a writer who wants a screed against the horrors of the war.  The movie tries to have it both ways and it results in a very weird mix.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1982) View IMDB Filed in: Action, Drama