Monday, October 10, 2005

Day 10: First Blood

And what best to follow up the belabored sufferings of an ancient martyr God than with America’s very own prototype of a martyr, the Vietnam Veteran. Before watching First Blood, I’d never actually seen a Rambo movie all the way through. I caught parts of them on TV when I was younger, but never actually sat through them. Imagine my surprise that First Blood (which I refuse to call Rambo: First Blood) is actually a halfway decent movie. Literally.

The first 50 minutes or so of this 97 minute movie are nicely paced, edited, and shot. Sylvester Stallone plays John J. Rambo, a Green Beret/Special Forces type who’s come to a small Oregon town to find an old Vietnam buddy. After learning that his buddy has died of cancer, Rambo, with nowhere to go, walks around aimlessly until he is picked up by the town’s sheriff. The sheriff, played by Brian Dennehy in an over-the-top performance that is still somehow convincing, apparently hates drifters with a passion most people reserve for suspected child killers and so, unaware of Rambo’s past, arrests him for vagrancy. When Rambo is abused by the other officers in the small town police station, he snaps, fights back, and flees to the wilderness.

All of this is handled with an admirable efficiency, as is the ensuing sequence when Rambo stalks the pursuing cops in the forest. He sets traps, hunts them down, and immobilizes each one without killing them. It’s a fun meshing of the classic formula of a falsely accused man on the run and slasher movie conventions. It also reminded me of the old adage (I think from Hitchcock) that you will enjoy watching someone who is good at his job. Rambo is very good at his job and it’s enjoyable to watch him turn the tables on the coppers.

This section of the film has some effective location photography. It also best showcases a fun score by Jerry Goldsmith, fun because it is slightly too “big” for the scale of the movie. For instance: the music swells into an epic Western/Americana theme after Rambo steals a motorcycle from an innocent bystander and rides away from the chasing cops. The disparity between the epic music and the small motorcycle made me smile.

But the movie can’t keep this up for too long, and eventually, too many characters diffuse the essential conflict between Dennehy and Stallone. There’s a hefty chunk of time where nothing much happens as Rambo is hidden and Dennehy and others keep looking for him. A final confrontation that has Rambo blowing up a gas station and knocking out power in the small town to draw Dennehy out is kind of exciting but doesn’t amount to much. The movie concludes with a monologue from Rambo in which he cries and shouts about injustices, the terrible things he saw in Vietnam, and his treatment when he came back home. This monologue really is something to see. It’s embarrassingly funny as Stallone slurs and screams his lines at a rapid-fire pace, rendering most of it incomprehensible. The emotional beats are just right, though. So, even if it's not expressed with the best of care by Stallone and is transparently manipulative, I can’t deny that the tearful speech got to me a little.

I think it’s fascinating that this movie found the audience it did back in 1982. It tapped a zeitgeist of some sort and became a cultural watermark, no doubt there. I think there’s something about the way it puts a Vietnam Veteran in the same position the North Vietnamese were in (outgunned, outmanned, using a familiarity with the land to gain his advantage, and setting traps like the North Vietnamese) and has him, ultimately, come out on top that appealed to people. Perhaps the movie hit an undercurrent of atypical American self-flagellation over mistakes made in Vietnam. Perhaps I’m thinking too much about a Rambo movie.

14 comments:

Humour and last laugh said...

interesting analysis!

m i t s u k o said...

Great review! I wish our newspaper had a movie reviewer who could write as well as you do... I really liked the analogy you added in the last paragraph.

(and no.. I won't double-post this time.. sorry about doing that in the Passion of the Christ entry)

Ash Karreau said...

The movie's good, but it's no Rocky 4.

David Wester said...

That's true: it's missing a certain Lundgreness that Dennehy just can't match.

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David Wester said...

Ash, I will break you.

Richardlimjr said...

Got to share with you, after all these years, I didn't actually get to watch the First Rambo : First Blood until a couple of weeks ago.

I saw Part2 and Part 3 before but strangely, the first part was never really available in Singapore until recently I found a copy of dvd in the Library.

Nice to know that there someone who actually watch First Blood for the first time after so many years.

Cheers
R

remmaps said...

Natalee "Natalee Holloway" Holloway

Beth "Beth Twitty" Twitty

Six said...

Unbelieveable coincidence! I'm getting ready to watch "First Blood" right now! I haven't seen this movie or thought about it in over ten years! I just got the urge to watch this movie again, and then I come here and you're talking about it! Oooooh, scary! *eerie background music*

PrimeHitman said...

That was dead-on review. The first time I saw the movie as a teen I was actually put-off by Stallone playing somewhat of an anti-hero. Despite the fact that I empathized with Rambo I didn't like the fact that there was no clear distinction between the good guys and bad guys. As a teen I wanted to root for Stallone but I remember being a little confused. Now as an adult, I can see how that this movie was trying to be more than an action movie.

Despite the attempt to deliver a complex message, I still think of it as a brainless movie to watch on a Saturday afternoon when there not much else to do.

Anonymous said...

I first read the book in the late 70's
and thought this would make a great movie. I waited and sure enough, they made a movie of it. But even though the movie was fine, as aways, the book was better.

John said...

I haven't seen this movie in years - frankly, it's not high on my to do list either - but i also remeber being confused by this movie as a kid. It was probably a bit over my head, though i don't think anyone would argue that it's a subtle film.

Regardless, I find it unfortunate that such poor sequels were made using what was potentially a complex and interesting character. I guess guns always beat out thought in the entertainment buisness.

zooplah said...

I really like the movie. It's a good movie. It's classified as action, but I see it more as a drama (especially since it hardly has any action). The ending is great, though it leaves too much room for inferior sequels. It's unfortunate, judging from the ads, that the remake will not be very much like this; but I guess, it will need a lot of action to sell.

watch movies online said...

I didn't actually watched movie so can't comment how it will be. I got an idea after reading your review about this movie and do thinks that it can be watched. Thanks for the write up.