War is hell. It is unimaginable now to a have a war film that doesn’t somehow incorporate a soldier’s personal hell ideal into its narrative. Yet there was a time when soldiers were portrayed as pro-Government, ‘doing their duty and loving it’ role-models, exploited by the real military as poster boys for why you should sign up. Nowadays, ‘War is Hell’ and those fighting in any war other than World War II are doing so with a level of personal crisis and melancholy at the excesses of death and destruction. This is in part due to the success and revolutionary script to First Blood (the original Rambo film to those who don’t know).
John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) is a Vietnam veteran in search of one of his former team-mates. He discovers that said friend has died of cancer due to an exposure to Agent Orange during the War. Despondent and aware that he is the only survivor from his squad, Rambo heads to a new town for a new start, but is victimised and run out of town for being a ‘drifter.’ He is then picked up and attacked by the Sheriff’s deputy and while trying to escape accidentally kills one of the officers on duty, leading to a manhunt to capture him including police and national guard.
The script for First Blood, co-written by Stallone, is dripping with angst and solemn reality. At its core, it tells the story of a ‘war hero’ who finds himself back home with no fanfare, no help and very little in the way of prospects. Due to his superior training and a lack of social grace, he finds himself in a victimised position, but because of his background it is impossible to see him as anything but trouble. At the time, First Blood was one of the first action film’s to engage it’s brain and look at the war soldiers are treated at war and when they return. The fact that films like Full Metal Jacket and Platoon then followed its lead stand as a testament to First Blood‘s influence.
Stallone encapsulates the brooding anti-authority, anti-hero with aplomb and is probably his second best performance outside the original Rocky. It’s odd to note that all the sequels portray Rambo as an unstoppable juggernaut, killing and destroying all enemies in his path. yet this first instalment is a post-war drama as much as it is an action film.
The name Rambo is now as synonymous with action films as The Terminator or John MacClane, but in First Blood he is far more of a tortured, almost Shakespearean dramatic core to a film that refuses to glorify the violence and death that other action films of the 1980s thrived upon. Truly one-of-a-kind and as historically influential as any action film.