The more I see with Sylvester Stallone, the more I come away impressed of him as an actor, writer and director. There is a perception with Sly that he's just a big galoot, that New Yorker who mumbles his words and doesn't know any better. And maybe through his career, he wasn't a classic oriented filmmaker, but maybe most importantly he knows what audiences will plop down money for and go see his movies in theaters. The guy is genuinely talented in front of the camera or behind it, but often enough that talent gets lost in a sea of bad, cheesy movies. Co-writing the script and starring in First Blood, Stallone shows his ability on all fronts.
A small town sheriff in the Pacific Northwest, Sheriff Teasle (Brian Dennehy) picks up a drifter traveling through his town and orders him to move along, the population doesn't approve of his kind. The drifter, a man named John Rambo (Stallone), is just looking for a bite to eat so when he's arrested for vagrancy and booked, he freaks out. He runs for the hills with Teasle and a crew of deputies on his trail, but they had no idea what they were getting themselves into. Rambo is a Vietnam vet, a Special Forces soldier, a Green Beret, and a Congressional Medal of Honor winner. He toys with the deputies, wounding them all but killing none until Teasle is forced to call in the state police (led by Bill McKinney) and the National Guard, along with Rambo's former commander in Vietnam, Colonel Samuel Trautman (Richard Crenna). But as the manhunt continues, is Rambo even willing to surrender or is this one last blaze of glory?
Through all the parodies, spoofs and criticisms of Stallone as an actor, this is one of his finest performances, both as a physical action star and a dramatic actor. For the first 80 minutes or so, Stallone has little in the way of lines at all. It's his presence alone that keeps the movie interesting, letting his actions speak for themselves as he somewhat humanely takes out the sheriff's posse hunting him. When he finally gets to deliver his lines, Sly hits a grand slam in the finale. MILD SPOILERS Watch it HERE as Rambo just falls apart emotionally and physically, his memories from Vietnam finally becoming too much to handle. What he says is probably what most Vietnam vets felt like to one degree or another and shows that if you ever thought Stallone couldn't act, you'd be wrong.
Now we've got this heroic, very easy to like main character so you need someone equally evil to counter with. Dennehy as small town Sheriff Teasle is the ideal bad guy to Rambo's good guy. He's the type of power figure who gets off using all his power, all his might on this little world he controls. Then when there's the slightest disturbance, he flips out. He and his deputies treat Rambo like dirt for no obvious reason, but they do it because they can. This is a character you love to hate almost from the first time you meet him. Then there's the middle man, Crenna as Colonel Trautman, Rambo's commanding officer in Vietnam. First, his entrance (watch HERE) is as bad-ass as they come in this character you probably shouldn't like but end up feeling that way regardless. Trautman helped create the man that Rambo has turned into but knows it was a part of war. Now, he has to balance out responsibility with what's right for the most people. Two great supporting roles.
Okay, enough with the acting and all that good stuff. Rightfully so, but this was one of the first great 1980s action movies. From the moment Rambo escapes the sheriff's office it is almost non-stop action until the end. This is aided by Stallone doing many of his own stunts, but the action is that fine line between implausible and realistic while still being ridiculously cool. The action is big and in your face, especially toward the end when everything in sight starts getting blown up. There's chases, hand to hand fights, and shootouts galore so anyone seeking an action-packed flick will surely get what they paid for.
Also worth mentioning is the music from composer Jerry Goldsmith with a score reminiscent of his Von Ryan's Express score that balances the quieter, softer moments like THIS with the more action-oriented, like HERE. Goldsmith did a lot of great scores in his career, but this is one of his best. The British Columbia locations are perfect, adding that sense of gloomy, dreary, always raining feeling of being closed in with nowhere to go. As a CSI Miami fan, I have to point out this, look for a very young David Caruso as a deputy. The sequels are entertaining enough in their own ways, but as a movie this is the best one by far. An action classic with the acting to back it up.
First Blood <---trailer (1982): *** 1/2 /****