First Blood (1981)
Some have been trying to make the case for this film lately as a misunderstood masterpiece undone by crappy sequels, which subverted the film’s bitter, poignant study of the corrosive memory of Vietnam. Upon returning to it, I can’t agree. True, the film has something to say, and bravely packs in an action climax in exchange for a rapid-fire moaning monologue from Stallone that’s something about friends getting blown up and hippie scum spitting on him. Ted Kotcheff’s atmospheric take on a rainy, dreary Pacific Northwest is moody and memorable. But the movie suffers from split impulses, substituting realism and seriousness by playing up the action-movie value of its story for all its worth, complete with cliffhanger climaxes, snarling music hall villains, Stallone’s martyr/demigod complex, and Jerry Goldsmith’s heroic martial score. In a way, Rambo: First Blood Part II fulfills this film’s ambitions much more clearly – to become a whoop-ass Commie-kicking eat-shit-Abbie Hoffmann good time.