First Blood
"Stallone's energy and ambition knew no bounds in the Eighties." | Photo: Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

In the same year that he wrote, directed and starred in Rocky III, Sly Stallone made the first of the Rambo pictures and created another cult hero. First Blood is based on the novel by David Morrell and was never supposed to be part of a series. Stallone's energy and ambition knew no bounds in the Eighties. He deserves respect.

Before John Rambo lost his Christian name and became a muscle-bound hunk, who braved a hail of bullet before breakfast and saved the world by dinner time, he was a Vietnam vet, seeking out an army buddy in some hick community in Middle America, long haired, lean and uncommunicative.

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Brian Dennehy plays the sheriff of the local town, who takes a dislike to Rambo, thinking him a drifter. Rambo responds to being treated like dirt by ignoring the sheriff's orders to get out of town. He is arrested, roughed up, flung into a cell. What the cops don't realise is that this man was a Green Beret, a special forces pro who is far more proficient at survival techniques than any of them. When he escapes into the woods and they go hunt him down, the odds are not in their favour.

There have been complaints that this is a vigilante-style movie, in which the sympathy is with the criminal. Rambo kills the cop who has been torturing him and so becomes a murderer in the eyes of the law, but what the film is saying is that bullies get their comeuppance and the little guy can be the tougher guy, which is good, isn't it?

If First Blood had been made today, the action would have been more extreme and the stunts more expensive. Despite a tendency to glamorise the man-on-the-run, Stallone stays as much in character as possible. Rambo has suffered at the hands of the Viet Cong. He's damaged and dangerous. He's also a little mad.

Dennehy is terrific. In some respects, the sheriff is a red-necked stereotype. In others, he is the victim of his environment. Ted Kotcheff, the director, goes with the storyline rather than the cliché. Stallone is fully committed. The excitement is switched on.

The movie has weathered well.

Reviewed on: 13 Jul 2002
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Sylvester Stallone in first Rambo movie.
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Director: Ted Kotcheff

Writer: Michael Kozoll, William Sackheim, Sylvester Stallone

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna, Brian Dennehy, Bill McKinney, Jack Starrett, Michael Talbott, Chris Mulkey, John McLiam, Alf Humphreys, David Caruso, David L. Crowley

Year: 1982

Runtime: 97 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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