When their quarrel moves to the snow-covered forrest, Rambo becomes Jaws on legs and carves through the tree-line and local law-enforcement like a hot knife through winter snow, dispatching his pursuers in a scarily efficient fashion using only his wits and his, now-infamous, bowie knife.
An obvious product of Regan-era politics (Vietnam untriumphant, one-man army, nary a woman in sight) it nonetheless has a clear message to deliver; Society is at fault and we let down those that returned from ‘Nam.
Less cartoonish than it’s sequels (the death count here is only 1... Part 2 has 75 deaths, Part 3 has 115, Part 4 has, no bullshit, 254) it relies on cinematographer Andrew Lazlo’s (The Warriors, Streets Of Fire, Poltergeist 2 and Southern Comfort) earthy design of desaturated browns and greens to evoke the stark cold and bleakness of winter in the mountains and help stack the odds against Rambo as he lunges from one hellish environment to the next.
Pulling dual duties as co-writer and star, Stallone (hot off Rocky 3 and in terrific shape) has the smarts to keep his dialogue to the absolute minimum, instead using a quite mumble and doe-eyed look to express the innocence Rambo needs to align us with his just fight. The only time he really lets loose is the surprisingly emotional finale when Rambo finally cracks and pulls the heart-strings with his monologue (‘My friend! He’s all over me!’).
As the corrupt lawman, Brian Dennehy is in ever reliable form, a perfect counterpoint to Rambo; a portly, loquacious and morally corrupt antagonist who, nevertheless, has a job to do, one that he believes is right.
There’s even a young David Caruso who appears as the conscientiously objective deputy, here relying on actual acting rather than the sunglasses-acting he become accustomed to over 9yrs of CSI: Miami.
Clear, concise and told with a point of view, modern action vehicles could do a lot worse than strip it all back to a FIRST BLOOD aesthetic.