"People start fucking around with the law
and all hell breaks loose."
Based on the novel by David Morrell
The effects of Agent Orange and many other issues with
the Vietnam War
come up in this film, starting with the lack of respect
returning vets were shown.
With the knowledge that his last friend is gone, Rambo really
has nothing to lose. All he wants is a hot meal. All he
gets is the un-welcome mat. Who knows what makes him turn around
after the Sheriff so boorishly escorts him to the outskirts of town—it's probably just
hunger and not wanting to walk 30 miles to the next town in the
freezing rain just to get something to eat. But maybe it's
indignation at the abuse of authority. He's done nothing wrong.
ABUSE OF AUTHORITY
Right off the bat, Teasle insults Rambo with a comment about the American flag on his coat (like Rambo's not fit to wear it, when the truth is exactly the opposite). "Drifter" is the label he tags Rambo with. The Army coat means nothing honorable to Teasle. Just because Rambo's a veteran, he has a bedroll on his back, and his hair's a little long, Teasle makes him feel like dirt. So much for service to your country. [It's still hard to believe, embarrassing, and shameful that real-life America at that time was so unkind to returning veterans. An 'unpopular' war, as it was called, by those who had the luxury of 'choosing' peace . . .. Popular opinion, later, finally swung the right way. Helped in no small part by this movie.
An even uglier face of cowardice and hate than Teasle's takes shape in the form of Teasle's trigger-happy-hothead-bully Deputy Galt played by Texan Jack Starrett (with a heavy Southern accent in a northwestern town—'cause, sadly, nothing shorthands hate like a Redneck). Sheriff Teasle has little control over his undisciplined men, least of all his Deputy! They fight amongst themselves, they don't obey his orders (even after he yells "Cease fire!" multiple times), and are sorely lacking skills and courage. A real contrast to Rambo (as we'll find out).
What happened next was so unnecessary. (It served to remind us of all the horrors of warfare we learned about because of Vietnam: the prevalence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and so many other ailments the Government refused to treat, let alone recognize; the variety of booby traps the Viet Cong used; and how out of our element American troops seemed as we kept on losing).
The malice in Rambo's rejection by the authority figures in this "jerkwater" town is the real crime. The popularity of the Rambo series has everything to do with his disenfranchisement and his unparalleled skills as a soldier: The Bad Ass of all time. Rambo's the reason Action Movie Freaks love Super Soldier Action Movies, as opposed to Superhero Action Movies. He's a true Action Figure, a hero, a real Man.
As the mistreatment of Rambo escalates, his escape is inevitable. We get a glimpse of some of the hell he's been through with a series of flashbacks. The cops really have no idea what Rambo has endured, or what he's capable of. Even after they see the torture scars he has on his chest and back, and even when David Caruso's character Mitch says that Rambo's "crazy", they don't cut him any slack. Feeling threatened by the straight razor they are trying to use to shave him, Rambo knocks them all down and runs out of the building. He commandeers a motorcycle, and Galt comes rushing out after him prepared to endanger the public to kill Rambo, innnocent bystanders be damned! Good thing Teasle was there to forcibly stop him (verbally doesn't work). Teasle pursues Rambo in his patrol car.
The motorcycle/car chase that ensues is all out! It serves to show how crazy Teasle is, driving where he has no business going in a vehicle without 4-wheel drive, pushing it until he rolls the car into a ravine. In a long chase, first with vehicles, then on foot, they try to kill Rambo several times—bringing dogs in, shooting at him—it's a harrowing ordeal.
Pursuing him down a cliff face via helicopter, Galt has every intention of killing Rambo, while Rambo clings to the rocks for dear life. As the shots are all near misses, Rambo has no choice but to make a crazy jump from the cliff face to a tall tree (which is still really far away) that he hopes will break his fall. In the movie, Rambo cuts his arm on the way down (it's amazing he didn't break anything, like his neck). This is the "first blood" he refers to later. In real life, Stallone broke a rib while doing his part of the stunt fall through the tree. (Read a detailed account here. His stunt double was the legendary Buddy Joe Hooker.)
As Rambo tries to take cover behind the tree trunk, Galt keeps on shooting. Improvising, Rambo throws a rock and hits the helicopter windshield. The surprise hit startles the pilot who shifts the rudder, and Galt falls out. We feel no sympathy for Galt as he plummets to his death. If Galt hadn't tried to shoot Rambo off the cliff, Rambo wouldn't have had to jump to the tree to save his own life. You'd be pissed too, if you had the balls to jump, and if, like Rambo, you were lucky enough to survive. And we get another Rambo trademark: dressing his own wounds.
After stitching himself up, Rambo even tries
to stop the violence, to talk some sense into the men at the top
of the cliff, but, incredibly, they shoot at
him as he's wounded and unarmed with his hands in the air—the
Sheriff shoots first! Unbelievable! Luckily, they miss. Rambo
takes off and the cops make it down to the gorge to Galt's body
and radio in. They find out who Rambo really is, but it makes no
difference to Teasle. In a classic
Action Movie Whiner moment, David Caruso's character
Mitch assesses the situation and awesomely points out the obvious
to Teasle: "Why don't you let
the State Police handle this?" (hilarious) Mistake. Bent on revenge for Galt's death, Teasle makes it clear,
that regardless of who Rambo is, he means to kill
him. So it's on! It's now a fight to the death, and Teasle thinks it will be Rambo's.
Rambo could easily have killed them all, but he keeps on turning the other cheek and letting them live (something Sylvester Stallone wanted and re-wrote—a more sympathetic character than the one in the book and the initial script).
Mitch sums it up: "We ain't hunting him, he's hunting us."
Like Predator (5 years after in 1987), this movie's really cool for the survival-in-the-woods warfare—The best kind of Action Movie! And like Predator, the music is great and serves to heighten the military feel and the danger. Action Movie Freaks love all the soldier training, the resourceful traps (as Predator puts it "Boy Scout stuff"), and the camouflage (more Rambo trademarks: bow and arrow, improvising weapons, and appearing out of nowhere/perfectly blended into his environment). [Plus he also dons another Rambo trademark: the headband.]
After immobilizing all Teasle's men
and the 3 dogs, Rambo
confronts him: "I could have killed them all. I could have
killed you. In town, you're the law—out here, it's me. Don't
push it. Don't push it or I'll give you a war you won't believe.
Let it go. Let. It. Go." You'd think that would be enough, as Teasle
collapses in tears, Rambo flees, but Teasle won't stop.
What a joke. Rambo let the six others live, and the Deputy Sheriff had it coming. Trying repeatedly to kill Rambo, and all the while his commanding officer was screaming at him to stop. Yeah, Galt deserved what he got.
Meanwhile, we find Teasle in a tent being treated for his minor scrapes, bellyaching over "jurisdiction", and lying to the State Police to cover his ass. Prophetically he utters: "People start fucking around with the law and all hell breaks loose." Summing up, he laments: "Whatever possessed God in Heaven to make a man like Rambo?" And we hear this Action-Movie-history reply:
(In a speech that would make William Shatner proud, this is another Rambo trademark: the build-up Trash Talking we crave so much, hyping the main character.)
And we cut to Rambo in the forest hunting a wild pig. He won't
The legend grows. Now we really have a fear of Rambo and a fear for him. Are they really going to send so many men after him?! Is he that good!? They continue the depiction of local law enforcement as incompetent as the radio operator has to be told to put away a magazine. We really feel for Rambo as Trautman calls him on the radio using his old "Baker Team" call sign "Raven". Rambo tells Trautman everyone's dead, he's the last one. He refuses to come in. In a devastating observation he says "There are no friendly civilians." (Let it sink in that in real life that observation was plausible and didn't sound crazy!) It's now a battle between Rambo and the "King Shit Cop". In Rambo's words: "They drew first blood." So now Rambo's getting even for all mistreated vets. Hell yeah!
The next day Rambo is up against a ridiculous number of local National Guardsmen, also under-trained and lacking discipline (they won't obey orders). They have Rambo cornered at the old mine entrance he took shelter in the night before. [Rambo lets a teen boy live even though the kid was sure to (and does) give away his position (Lone Survivor!).] Rambo uses all the ammunition he has, harmlessly, again, killing no one, just to get the troops to stop firing. They are now set to blast Rambo to kingdom come with a rocket launcher, despite the fact that they had been instructed to not to fire (they cut to them all firing on him), and to bring him in alive. So we are treated to yet another awesome Rambo trademark: Massive explosions! Rambo manages to survive the rocket-launcher blast, but is trapped in the mine shaft.
We really feel for Rambo who winds up in the
pitch black when the mine entrance collapses. It's so cold he can see his
breath by matchlight, but he has to cut the ratty old tarp that
he made into a coat into strips so he can fashion a torch.
He swims his way through a
rat-infested canal , then down a narrow mine shaft. When he
finally finds the way out, his relief is so great you flashback
to his torture. It's the being blown up and trapped underground
that makes us feel whatever the whole town gets from now on, they
Speaking of funerals, the town of "Hope" is about to have a rude a-wake-ning. Rambo's not dead. Now back aboveground, he steals a transport truck (again, not killing the driver, who flags down the police). They pursue and try to kill him, driving crazy and shooting at him, but he runs them into a parked car (another explosion), and breaks through a massive armed roadblock headed back into town. Where else? The cops in the roadblock shoot at him coming and going.
He arrives in town in a BIG way, blowing up the transport and a gas station. Again, massive explosions! And these explosions put the first, and those in many other movies, to shame. It's a serious, Holy Fuck, town-shaking series of explosions. Now, Rambo is set loose on the town armed with an M-60 and plenty of ammo (another thing we love about this movie and Predator: big guns). Nothing says Action Movie like overkill!
Meanwhile Trautman is still trying to talk Dennehy down, but he's 'mad' (and not just angry, but crazy). Rambo, like we see in the amazing shot below, is sneaking around town heavily armed and dangerous.
Love this shot! The movie takes on another dimension of cat and mouse now, as Teasle heads to the rooftop of the Police Station.
Rambo not only blew a gas station to hell, we also hear the highway's blocked. He makes his way around town, shooting out transformers to kill the lights. This is where video games come from, people! He ends up in a gun store and goes 'shopping' (like Arnold would in Commando 3 years later in 1985), but instead of taking stuff with him, he destroys it all so they can't use it (and it's a diversion). Then, he discovers where Teasle is hiding and shoots up the police station—how we enjoy seeing Teasle's face as Rambo destroys the place. Now Teasle knows Rambo's coming for him. All we can do is wonder if Rambo is really going to kill Teasle. We want him to kill Teasle, but he only wounds him (he could have died, but he just gets wounded and falls). Before Rambo can finish Teasle off, Trautman intervenes and talks him down.
Now, we get a speech. After so much silence, we hear an outpouring of the real feelings of real veterans, and the heartache and solitude of a fictional soldier who has lost all his friends. He pulls Trautman down to his knees and cries on his shoulder. It's surprising how healing that was for the country. I can only imagine how it felt for veterans, but as a civilian, it helped that he finally got his say, and that he gets walked out with dignity—not put into a police car, not arrested—we assume to leave with Trautman in a helicopter like he was promised. With no consequences, at least not in this shitty little town, but that's another movie.
This type of role is something Sylvester Stallone was put here to do: Representing the unsung hero. Kudos to Mr. Stallone for understanding that it needed to be said. It needed to felt and recognized. He knew this movie would not be the giant hit that it was, if Rambo was not a sympathetic character. Action Movies have to be all about the Hero!
As we moved on to Rambo: First Blood Part 2, Stallone tackled the P.O.W.s and M.I.A.s that were left behind in a fantasy that we all wish were true, as the not knowing ate at us all. It was something we so wished they would have done! Then in Rambo III, he rescues Trautman, but he also speaks/fights again for the underdogs. The speech in that movie about coming "full circle" weighed heavily on my mind as we watched him languish in Thailand in Rambo (2008), but then, at last, he finally decided to go back home to the U.S. (Arizona). And we thought that was where it would end. I'm really glad there will be a Rambo 5. We can see who "R. Rambo" is.
Where Mr. Stallone will take him after he arrives back at what we assume is his childhood home is anyone's guess. It was a fitting closing scene (walking down a road toward a house and smiling, mirroring the opening of First Blood), but now that we hear it's going to be called Rambo: Last Blood, we just know he's going to die.
After the massive, out-of-character disappointment that A Good Day to Die Hard was, we can only hope Mr. Stallone will bring all the Rambo trademarks into play plus keep him true to his noble character. As a woman, I just wanted him to finally feel connected and loved, and have a sense of family, so all I ask is PLEASE let him be happy before he dies; let him die for something worth dying for. It's too much to imagine Rambo 5 would switch genres and be a Drama or a Romance or even a Comedy with a happy ending where he gets a wife and discovers he has kids, or adopts, or something, and lives to a ripe old age. I can dream! Poor Rambo! What a life. Reminds us all how much we owe servicemen and women. Never take your freedom for granted!
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