$2.50 Reviews: First Blood (1982)

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$2.50 Reviews

First Blood

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Sylvester Stallone is someone who is at his best when he's doing action scenes, not while he's talking. He's a physical actor, someone who is always in tip-top shape. He seems to do a lot of his own stunts, and he's believable in them. In fact, because of his physique, he makes the impossible feel probable, and this is one of the reasons that First Blood works as well as it is. Its only real problem comes from whenever Stallone has to deliver more than a one-line acknowledgment.

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Stallone plays John Rambo, a Vietnam War veteran, someone who was affected mentally by his experience over there. He was in the Special Forces, but is now drifting from place to place, not really knowing what to do with himself. At the beginning of the film, he finds himself approaching the small town of Hope, and is placed under arrest by and overzealous sheriff (Brian Dennehy), despite not having done anything wrong. Rambo is never really all that cooperative, and after being bullied by the cops, he decides that enough is enough, breaking out of the police station and running into the forest, where much of the movie takes place.

It's one man against an entire army -- eventually, anyway, after the local force is unable to stop him -- and that's how the rest of the film plays out. We learn from his boss and Colonel (Richard Crenna) that he might be the most dangerous man alive, as he was trained to survive in situations like this. He's in hostile territory and he has to live off the land -- that kind of thing.

This is despite him initially not doing a single thing wrong. He was provoked, like an animal backed into the corner. There's an emotional connection present here, as we know that Rambo had no reason to be arrested. He's been mistreated, and that he's a war veteran whose life has been severely impacted by his service only adds onto the empathy we feel. We get small flashbacks early on when situations arise that remind him of some of the horrors he faced in Vietnam. Rambo is quite a sympathetic character in this film, and Stallone doesn't even have to do much acting for that to happen.

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In fact, it's when he does try to really act when the film starts to take a turn for the worst. At the end of the film, he delivers a long monologue revealing things we'd already picked up over the course of the film, and it just slows the whole thing down. I get it. We need a climax and having him explain how messed up he is makes sense. But it doesn't work when Stallone is murmuring this monologue, keeping the same stoic face that he's had for the film's entirety.

This actually differs from the book on which First Blood is based. That's fine, as that ending was a whole lot more depressing, although I still found this monologue unnecessary. It's not even that Stallone's delivery is poor; it's more the fact that we've already come to understand everything he tells us. The earlier parts of the film imply pretty much everything he goes on about in this last speech, rendering it redundant. Now, if it was particularly powerful, or if Stallone could pull it off, maybe it would have worked. However, it does absolutely nothing for the film and I would have greatly preferred it to have been left out, or at least trimmed to the bare minimum.

That's really the only major problem facing First Blood. The rest of the film is a tight, action-packed experience, one for the ages. It works almost as well as a psychological thriller as it does an action film. It has some fantastic sequences of action, as well as some troubling character moments. Sometimes these overlap to create brilliance. There is never a dull moment until the end, and despite it being unrealistic at times, we believe in it because Stallone sells the action scenes so well.

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Is it really possible for about half of the things in First Blood to happen? Probably not. Does that matter when we're watching the film? Absolutely not. As a physical actor, Stallone is top-notch. He single-handedly makes us believe that his character can pull off everything that happens in the film. It's not just that he's in great shape, although that helps. He doesn't seem afraid to take a bump every now and then, which allows his character to be more human that invincible, which helps us buy these moments of implausibility.

Stallone is easily out-acted by both other prominent players, Brian Dennehy and Richard Crenna, both of whom have the ability to steal scenes. Dennehy's obsessive cop persona makes him an effective villain, and while Crenna doesn't get a lot of time on-screen, he does a great job with it.

First Blood is an excellent movie that's only let down by its final few moments. As it leads up to this point, however, it is so enjoyable, so well-made, that you have to forgive it for that misstep. It's an amazing action film, but also quite a strong psychological thriller about a man traumatized by his experience in Vietnam. Placing him as an underdog, having to fight a battle he didn't want is brilliant. Stallone sells the action scenes, and it's just too bad that he had to talk a lot at the end. That's the only notable flaw of First Blood.

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I'm surprised an actor can pull off action stunts and make them look possible to pull off.

OT: I have honestly never heard of this movie, but looking into it... the misteps might annoy me. Ah who am I kidding? If the movie is that amazing as you said, the character doesn't want to fight but he is foced to... well, it's worth a shot overall. Plus, even though he admits how messed up he is- I like characters admitting their faults.

Caramel Frappe:
I have honestly never heard of this movie, but looking into it

It is hard to get my 18 year old son to watch and enjoy anything from before 1995, but even he loved this movie.

It should be noted that we don't just see flashbacks of Rambo's past: in one scene he is having a psychotic episode brought on by post traumatic stress syndrome. It matters greatly to the character's motivation.

I disagree with Marter on the end of this one. Stallone's monologue is important to the movie. We kind of know the story, but we need to see Rambo thinking about and reacting to it. I think it Stallone's best acting ever, even if sometimes you can't understand exactly what he's saying. Method acting. He's feeling it. A great movie on many levels.

You may need to watch it a little in "appreciation mode." Action movies have changed a lot in pacing and execution since then. Understand this movie is over 30 years old. But an amazing achievement given when it was made.

The end monologue was important. Yes, we already knew Rambo was a sad individual with no place left to call home, but he was still primarily a bad ass. The end really strips him of that cool and quiet exterior and clearly reveals him to be a pathetic, whimpering, and broken man.

Caramel Frappe:
I'm surprised an actor can pull off action stunts and make them look possible to pull off.

OT: I have honestly never heard of this movie, but looking into it... the misteps might annoy me. Ah who am I kidding? If the movie is that amazing as you said, the character doesn't want to fight but he is foced to... well, it's worth a shot overall. Plus, even though he admits how messed up he is- I like characters admitting their faults.

How the hell can you have never heard of Rambo?

Ah, First Blood. I remember that I decided to watch this movie because I thought to myself "hey, an action movie starring Sylvester Stallone. I mean, the sequel has him shooting up Vietnam, so it has to be a completely brain-dead spectacle, right? Let's turn that brain of and just enjoy it. " But after having seen it, I realized that it isn't that kind of movie. And I am glad that it isn't.

Seriously, this is one of the best movies I've ever seen (which might not say that much, since I usually don't watch that many movies). The characters are well acted and believable, the action is topnotch, the story is simple but gripping, and personally, I think that the ending monologue is the best part of the movie, because that is the point where Rambo simply breaks down after spending the majority of the movie being badass, and you realize what a toll his experiences in Vietnam took on him, which goes beyond just his mental scarring.

This is a movie everyone should see. At least in my opinion.

As a kid in the 80s, there was nothing harder than 'Rambo'. At least, that's what mum told me (hush you).

I grew up, for the longest time, picturing a film with limitless ammunition, big explosions, and bad guys getting the crap kicked out of them.

But no. When I did actually finally see it I saw a lonely guy refusing to back down, yet also running as hard as he could `cause he knows the second he turns around, people die. A guy who had simply been through too much to roll over and let 'civvies' push their bureaucracy around.

Rambo is a film that sneaks up on you and hogties you in the night - and you don't forget it.

 

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