Jeff's Reviews

Thoughts on every movie I've ever seen.

First Blood (1982)

Directed by Ted Kotcheff

Starring Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna, Brian Dennehy, Bill McKinney

Author

The one that started it all.

It seems strange to watch it now, but apparently disdain for Vietnam veterans really was a thing back then. This was a confusing time for America. The country’s opinion of the war and the veterans who returned from it was confused and changing. In the words of one reviewer:

There was a fear that the veterans were disturbed, dangerous; might be a threat to society. This was a reflection of our overall ambivalence about the war in general. One of the outgrowths of these negative attitudes was that Vietnam Veterans were often portrayed in movies as dangerous, and self-destructive psychopaths. Taxi Driver, Don’t Answer the Phone; First Blood and Deer Hunter were all part of this trend. This trend flip flopped in the mid to late 1980s where Vietnam Veterans were now being deified in the movies.

First Blood is right in the middle of this transition, and that puts us as viewers in a confusing position. Rambo is psychologically broken from war and has not found an effective way to reintegrate himself with society. He’s misunderstood, a “victim” of the system. So we should sympathize with him, right? The problem is that he’s kind of an asshole. Instead of trying to be diplomatic and courteous, he’s withdrawn and aggressive, brutally killing law enforcement officers who are admittedly a little heavy-handed but are also just trying to do their job. Perhaps other veterans who have shared similar struggles find it easy to root for a character like this, but for the general population, I think it’s a big ask.

Stallone’s only bit of real acting is at the end, with Rambo’s breakdown and a long overdue explanation of what motivated all of the character’s behavior. Had some of this been shared earlier in the film, it would have painted him as a more of a helpless victim than a physical brute, making it easier to support and root for him.

Funny editing choices from the awkward early 80’s, including an extended car chase without music and prolonged helicopter approach shots that are totally unnecessary.

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