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read reviews of:
Rambo: First Blood II (1985)
Rambo III (1988)

 
 
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First Blood
cast: Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna, Brian Dennehy, David Caruso, and Jack Starrett

director: Ted Kotcheff

89 mins (15) 1982
widescreen 2.35:1
Momentum Take One DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 9/10
reviewed by Michael Marshall Smith
The key thing you have to remember about First Blood, the movie that introduced 'Rambo' to the world, is that it came before Rambo: First Blood II and Rambo III. This may sound self-evident. But while the sequels could reasonably be described as pieces of jingoistic crap, First Blood is a honest-to-goodness proper movie, of a type which people seldom bother to make any more.
   John Rambo is a drifter, a veteran of the war in Vietnam. On a search for surviving members of his platoon - and after discovering that he's the only one left - he happens upon a small burg in the Oregon mountains, looking for a bite to eat. The local sheriff feels it's better that he keep moving on, and gives him a lift out of town. Rambo decides that he's had enough of being shoved around, and walks the hell back into town. The cops push him just a little too hard, and Rambo knocks heads together before escaping into the woods with the sheriff hard on his tail. Neither are bad men, and neither will back down. Both are simply defending what they believe in - and hell follows after.
   Had it not been for the muddying effect of the vastly politically incorrect sequels, this movie would be remembered as one of the great action movies of the early 1980s. Its take on Vietnam, while not perhaps utterly fashionable, is low-key and not objectionable - providing, in the unreasoning conflict between the two leads, as good a moral as any. The movie's mythic beats - the hero crossing water to return to the town he has been thrown out of; the transformative time in the wilderness; the wild man's return to wreak revenge on the civilization which has ostracised him - all work brilliantly as a modern day Western. No one is ever going to give Sly an Oscar, but in this part he's perfect - working to fill the role, not just going through the action hero motions. It's one of Stallone's best performances, with a simple facility that he didn't better until Copland nearly 20 years later. Brian Dennehy - long-since consigned to straight-to-video fodder - is superb as the small-town sheriff, and Richard Crenna turns in a clipped cameo as Rambo's former mentor and father figure - finally forced to confront the war's legacy on the ordinary men caught up in it. Also look out for David Caruso - later the star of NYPD Blue - as an inexperienced Deputy.
   This DVD doesn't have much in the way of extras, apart from the original theatrical trailer and a contemporary 'teaser' (neither of which are up to much) - but actually, that's my point. First Blood isn't loaded with special effects to be exhaustively cooed over, and a blow-by-blow commentary from director Ted Kotcheff would have added nothing. This is an action movie of the old school, and as such relies upon pace, storytelling and character rather than CGI or self-indulgent anecdotery.
   The bottom line is that it's Sylvester Stallone running through the woods and blowing up shit, back in the days when he was a star on top of the world, and I don't need an excuse to enjoy that kind of thing. Sling it in the DVD player, sit back and let it rip.
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