I made a huge mistake waiting so long to watch Rambo: First Blood – this film is one of the best I have ever seen.
I thought First Blood would be your stereotypical 80’s over the top action film – that is why I avoided it for so long. Every time I heard people talk about the Rambo franchise, it reinforced this view. But First Blood is one of the most thought provoking and subtle (yes, subtle) films about veterans and war.
I personally think its messages about isolation, post-traumatic stress and the treatment of war veterans still stand up today – even from a British stand-point.
John Rambo was just hungry. All he wanted was something to eat after he travelled god knows how far to meet one of the few survivors from his former Vietnam squad, only to be told that he was also dead. The lad was just hungry and the police decided to start fucking with him. Little did the police know, that Rambo was a well oiled killing machine and, slowly but surely, he tears the cops’ town (hilariously named Hope) down.
The plot is essentially that simple – but there is untold depth in the way it plays out on film. It leaves you asking questions about why anyone, let alone a law official, would treat a war veteran badly. It led me to ask, how many veterans have/ do suffer from PTS? What did society do about it then, and what do we do to help vets now?
Sylvester Stallone is just incredible in this film – John Rambo doesn’t say much but his physical performance speaks volumes. And when Sly’s Rambo does speak, it is profound. There are not many film speeches that top the one he gives at the end of his assault on Hope:
“Nothing is over! Nothing! You just don’t turn it off! It wasn’t my war! You asked me, I didn’t ask you! And I did what I had to do to win! But somebody wouldn’t let us win! And I come back to the world and I see all those maggots at the airport, protesting me, spitting. Calling me baby killer and all kinds of vile crap! Who are they to protest me, huh? Who are they? Unless they’ve been me and been there and know what the hell they’re yelling about!” – John Rambo.
It all comes down to this – the majority of us are in the enviable position of not knowing what war is really like. I have family who serve and have told me harrowing stories but, still, I know I don’t have a clue. We watch all of these films and play all of these video games, we read about it, study the history of different wars, but we still don’t have a clue because we have not experienced it.
First Blood struck a chord with me because it’s not just a film about war, it’s a film about what happens to the people that fight those wars after they have ended. Although they are revered here in the UK and in America, we all know that we could still treat them better. It is also fascinating because it’s a snapshot of a time when vets were treated with disdain in America.
Hand on heart, First Blood is in my top 10 best films of all time. Let’s see how long it stays there for.