It has been many years since I’ve seen this movie, and I was a little overwhelmed in how good it was for the period. Forgetting what came afterwards, this is an excellent action movie with a strong underlying message about the true nature of war, and what it does to those that serve.
John Rambo, an ex-Green Beret suffering post traumatic combat fatigue, is hitching through a small town USA when he’s railroaded by the local sheriff. Still haunted by memories of Vietnam, his warfare training kicks into overdrive, and all manner of mayhem ensues. It’s a relatively simple idea, but it’s the execution that makes this story work on so many levels, along with some excellent performances by the cast.
With the possible exception of Rocky, Sylvester Stallone gives his best performance as the physically impressive but physiologically damaged John Rambo. The scene where he breaks down at the end is both moving and sincere, I’d contest he’ll never act better than that again, ever.
But without the other players in this modern tragedy Stallone would be monolithic, and two in particular deliver sterling support. Brian Dennehy as the single minded Sheriff Teasle provides excellent impetus for the story, being sufficiently cocky and overly confident that we want to see him handed his ass from the first moment we meet him. His emotional counterpoint is the amazing, and sadly late, Richard Crenna as Col. Samuel Trautman. His speech on arrival at the national guard encampment is the highlight of the movie for me, coming as he puts it to “reclaim my boy”.
The blend of action, histrionics and tension delivers a gripping yarn that manages to be head and shoulders better than almost anything comparable that came out in 1982. Yet despite this it curiously received no nominations for any film awards whatsoever. Perhaps it might have faired better had Dustin Hoffman taken the role, as was originally intended. Err…maybe not.
As Blu-rays go, this one straddles the boundary between an acceptable transfer and mediocre one. Some scenes are well represented, but others look chromatically flat. In another, poor choices of film stock in the camp fire night scene are cruelly exposed as horribly grainy. Overall it’s better than the DVD production, but not astoundingly so. The sound is also rather disappointing, but most of the DVD releases have been mono so we shouldn’t complain too much that the 5.1 on here isn’t sparkling.
As for extras there is but one, an 8 minute and 39 second interview, including credits, which was done with Stallone in Paris this year. It reveals some of the difficulties that surrounded bringing Rambo from a book to a motion picture, but hardly enough to make anyone feel knowledgeable on the subject. Given the wealth of material that must exist, this represents no appreciable effort on Optimum’s part. They’ve even removed the commentary tracks that appeared on the US release, for some arbitrary reason.