Just the name itself, Rambo, has become synonymous with staggering levels of violence and machismo. There’s nothing wrong with that. But First Blood is a very different beast. It’s about one man for sure, but rather than being a one-man army, it’s about him being one man alone.
On a superficial level it’s clear to see Rambo as an allegory for the Vietnam War. A large force underestimating and therefore being outsmarted by a far smaller and technologically inferior opponent.
But look past that and you see the story of a broken man, abandoned by all levels of a society he risked his life to protect. It all comes to head when he’s literally driven out of town by Sheriff Teasle. Is some food and rest too much to ask for a decorated veteran? Seemingly so.
Rambo, Teasle, and Trautman form a terrifically solid core to the film. Stallone gives an amazing performance; his final reel breakdown, explaining that out there he operated millions of dollars of equipment but here he can’t even hold down a job, is despicably sad. Teasle is a complete asshole, his need for order and his arrogance underpinned by a shred of doubt in his actions. But Trautman is my favourite. He gets all the lines – “A good supply of body bags” – plus he’s the inspiration for Roy Campbell of Metal Gear Solid fame. He’s come to get his boy, and it isn’t always clear how that’s going to play out.
The quality of First Blood feels ignored; smothered in the blood let by its sequels. But this is a strong movie, full of great performances, with a powerful message.
Far from the muscled action hero we generally bring to mind, First Blood very effectively shows us a broken man, just trying to find a place in the world. The violence isn’t gratuitous and isn’t cause for celebration. He’s in constant fight or flight mode. If only people would stop pushing him.
In one scene Rambo tells a guy to ‘go home’. It’s not too much to ask.