Length: 93 minutes
Release Date: October 22, 1982
Directed by: Ted Kotcheff
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
“First Blood” is the first and perhaps most beloved installment of the “Rambo” franchise. Sylvester Stallone stars as Rambo, a retired Special Forces member who is trying to recover from the things he experienced during the Vietnam War. Rambo was the most feared and infamous name on the battlefield, but war doesn’t last forever. When he returns home, he finds himself hopelessly unable to cope with civilian life and decides to retreat to the forest. He is pursued by Sheriff William Teasel, who has a personal grudge against him. Rambo’s former commander, Colonel Samuel Trautman, takes on the role of hero once again to find Rambo before he can do something he regrets.
“First Blood” delves deep into the psychological and emotional ramifications of war. Rambo himself may be a fighting machine, but his conscience still lingers enough to make him long for a normal life. When his encounter with the sheriff makes him realize that such a life is too far out of his reach, he is forced to confront his personal demons head on. Rambo is surprisingly hesitant to use violence without cause, although he eventually gets drawn into a gruesome battle that leads him deep into the forest. The film gives a close look into Rambo’s psyche during his earlier days before he became the more ruthless figure found in later films.
Pitting man against the elements is a major theme of “First Blood.” The film explores the origins of Rambo’s character, painting him as a far more human character than audiences are used to. It is much easier to see how Rambo became an almost inhuman force of violence when the story is laid out over time. Surprisingly, the movie does not focus on fight scenes and gore as much as character development and themes of regression. Rambo begins the film desperately clinging to his last shreds of humanity, but by the end, he is a completely different person. Although he is far from the villain, he is equally distant from the role of hero. Sheriff Teasel fills the villain role far more than Rambo, but director Kotcheff manages to avoid one-dimensional casting. This writing style leaves plenty of room for nuanced characters even in the most unexpected roles.
The musical score for the film is appropriately intense, striking a nice balance between the serene jungle environment and the chaos that occurs within. Rambo is forced to put the survival skills he learned in the Special Forces to use in ways he never could have imagined, becoming closer to nature as he distances himself from his humanity. Colonel Trautman is a compelling character in his own right, and he is easy to root for as he fights not only for Rambo’s sanity and conscience, but also for the members of the sheriff’s department in pursuit of him. Trautman is a sympathetic man who has managed not to give in to the cynicism that his experiences may have otherwise caused. He holds out hope that the best in everyone, including Rambo, can prevail and offer salvation.
Unlike the other films in the “Rambo” franchise, “First Blood” tells a much deeper story. What the movie lacks in gratuitous violence and flashy scenes, it makes up for in depth of story and character development. Rambo remains a character audiences aren’t quite certain whether to love or fear, and Stallone’s performance in “First Blood” fleshes him out in a way that makes the answer even more unclear. The supporting actors deliver respectable performances as well, but this prequel marks Stallone’s best performance of the franchise. In fact, Rambo has easily become one of the actor’s most admired roles for good reason. Few antiheroes manage to exude such intense qualities as Rambo, capturing not only the personality and expression of one character, but of an entire era as well.
Newcomers to the world of “Rambo” will benefit from watching this film first, and fans who missed this first installment of the series will enjoy a new and more nuanced understanding of one of their favorite action characters. While “First Blood” may look like just another action movie or war drama on the surface, the story and exceptional acting performances prove that it is far more. “First Blood” is a must-see addition to not only the “Rambo” movie collection, but the whole of the historical action genre as well.