John Rambo, or as we tend to all call him, Rambo, seems like an unstoppable force. A Vietnam veteran who never really left the war and finds himself pulled into a never-ending series of conflicts. But his beginning was far simpler. in the early 80’s we saw Hollywood starting to explore the conflict known as the Vietnam War and especially it’s impact on American Soldiers.
First Blood (adapted from a novel by David Morrell) tells the story of John Rambo…he is wandering America, trying to come to terms with his experiences as a POW. There is a deeply ingrained mythology of how when soldiers returned from Vietnam they were greeted at airports by being spat upon and protested. Some research has disputed how much (if any) of this happened. But it is true that the soldiers returning from Vietnam were not greeted as war heroes. There were no parades.We did want to just kind of ignore them.
John Rambo begins the story wandering into the small town of Hope, Washington. He is in town for all of three minutes before being noticed by Sheriff Teasle (Brian Dennehy) who invites him for a ride. Teasle drops him off at the city limits. But John is not so quick to give up and walk to the next town. But after returning he is quickly arrested and brought into the local jail. There he endures humiliation and disrespect at the hands of officers with no respect for our military men.
John reaches a breaking point and fights his way out of the police station and escapes into the woods. This creates a standoff, where John Rambo hides in the forest and mountains, crafting weapons and traps until his commanding officer (Richard Crenna) comes into the picture.
This film plays strongly to Stallone’s strengths as a gruff guy searching for healing and respect. In some ways, it is not a stretch to see similarities to Rocky. The film is a solid collection of established performers (Dennehy, Crenna and Jack Starrett) and up and comers (Chris Mulkey and David Caruso). Everyone delivers performances that keep you in the story.
Director Ted Kotcheff (who would go on to Direct Weekend at Bernie’s) shows a solid handle on the action, always keeping a fast pace. The film manages to be sympathetic to Rambo, while not presenting his actions as being right. He is a victim who reacts far to swiftly and violently, setting off a chain reaction. First Blood is a powerful action film with a heart behind it.