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First Blood

First Blood

What He said:


Much like with my recent review of Road House, I found myself home alone on a rainy day and I was in the mood to watch something that kicked ass. I wanted to watch something I knew that I liked and that was guaranteed to entertain me. I picked up a copy of First Blood in the bargain bin at Target years ago and forgot I had it. Something reminded recently that I owned a copy of it and I have been meaning to watch it for a while now. On a recent day off, I decided to watch this movie for the first time in years.

John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) is a Vietnam Veteran who is passing through a small Washington town looking for one of his buddies that he served with. The movie doesn’t say specifically, but you get the impression he is doing this on a whim. He seems to be the kind of guy who is always on the move, taking odd jobs, and moving on to the next town to begin again. He doesn’t seem very comfortable in society and I think he doesn’t settle down because he can’t. He doesn’t know how to. He is still coping with his time in the war.

It’s actually what leads to the conflict in this movie. You see, the sheriff of the town does not like when vets pass through his town. He thinks they are all drifters, who are bound to cause trouble for him and his townspeople. He politely tells Rambo to get out of his town. Not the most hospitable move in the world, but he really does do it in a non-combative way. He even gives Rambo a ride to the end of town.

First Blood

Rambo doesn’t take too kindly to this. Oddly enough, he accepts the ride, and doesn’t put up any resistance, but almost immediately after getting out of the car he heads back towards Sheriff Will Teasle’s (Brian Dennehy) town. Sheriff Teasle looks at this as an insult and arrests Rambo.

Once he’s taken to the station, things only get worse. Rambo outwardly resists arrest and most of Teasle’s men are major assholes. They really get off on torturing Rambo and Rambo isn’t doing himself any favors either. The real problem is Rambo starts getting flashbacks of his time in Vietnam. It is through these flashbacks we find out Rambo was a prisoner of war and being in jail and the way the guys are treating him is making him paranoid and eventually turns to violence.

Rambo has a mental breakdown and roughs up several of the cops at the station. The next thing you know, involved in a high-speed chase. They don’t catch him, but the sheriff eventually chases him off into the woods.

This is where things get really interesting. Teasle is pissed. Really pissed. Rambo humiliated his entire police force and evaded him to boot. He doesn’t pick up on the fact that Rambo is a one-man wrecking crew and is blinded by his desire for revenge. I said revenge and not justice because the cops seem more interested in killing him rather than arresting him. So, long story short is Teasle and his men arm themselves with some heavier equipment and go hunting for Rambo. Rambo has been taught to survivie with next to nothing, so he proves harder to find than they anticipated. The situation escalates, people are hurt, and eventually the military is called in.

One of the people who comes in is Rambo’s former commanding officer, Colonel Samuel Trautman (Richard Crenna). He knows how dangerous Rambo is and asks the sheriff to back off and let him go in and talk Rambo down. The sheriff takes offense to this and questions Trautman’s motives. He starts to suspect that Trautman actually wants Rambo to get away.

Paranoia is a big theme of this movie. Rambo is paranoid, the sheriff is paranoid, as are his men. There is a lot going on here. Rambo is obviously suffering from PTSD, so that’s easy to spot. But it’s intriguing to watch the sheriff’s paranoia unfold. He seems to be leery of anything federal, military, or superior to him – and holds a prejudice against veterans in general – but that only worsens as the movie goes on. When he accuses Trautman of secretly pining for Rambo’s getaway, you can see he’s really far gone at that point. It is very Captain Ahab of him. For a cop, he also seems pretty anti-government. He does not hide his disdain for Vietnam Veterans, is threatened when the state cops show up, and that gets worse when the military shows up. It’s funny that a guy like that would choose law enforcement as a career but makes him an interesting character nonetheless; and Dennehy portrays the character very well. I wouldn’t say he’s a bad guy – now his men are another story – but quickly spirals out of control as Rambo gets the best of him.

First Blood

What I found most interesting during this viewing was how much I blamed Rambo this time around. This is the first time I have seen it in years. Maybe it’s because I’m a little older and wiser (in theory), but I definitely don’t blame the cops the way I used to. When I was a kid, I simply looked at it as the cops picking on Rambo. That’s still true to a point. They definitely  triggered his mental breakdown. He likely wouldn’t have reacted violently had they not abused him at the police station. But Rambo really did contribute to that. For starters, when Teasle takes him to the end of town and asks him to move onto the next one, he outright refuses. Teasle’s prejudice against veterans is not rational, but Rambo should have taken the advice and simply left while he still good. He egged the sheriff one after the sheriff gave him a bit of friendly advice. He also flat out resisted in the police station when they were trying to book him. He also waged war on the entire town by the end of the movie. He definitely was not the innocent victim I remember as a kid. He didn’t start it, but he certainly helped contribute to the situation.

I haven’t even touched on the fact that the movie kicks ass. Not only is it a really well-acted movie, it’s a hell of an action flick too. Rambo’s one-man war against the sheriff and his men – particularly when he heads into the deep woods – is simply awesome. This is a top-notch movie. It works as an action movie and a drama too. If you haven’t seen it, it will surprise you in that sense.

Prognosis: Thumbs up.

This movie review was written for your reading pleasure on December 31, 2013.