Reviews written by registered user
|2 reviews in total|
this is certainly not the greatest film ever made. in fact, it's plot is
predictable and formulaic, and every character is two-dimensional.
having said that, this is a film that is often dismissed as a macho action flick with no redeeming feature. these are opinions i would defy.
while the only imagination put into the film seems to be the various ways in which John Rambo can kill people, the basic theme is nevertheless a pretty strong one. this is not meant to be a Fellini-esque commentary on life, the universe, and everything.
the three most important characters in the film are all played by pros. you have Stallone's John Rambo, Dennehy's Sheriff Teasle, and Richard Crenna's Colonal Trautman.
Brian Dennehy hasn't missed a beat in his entire career; he's been a superb character actor since i've been watching movies, and - like Michael Caine - he always puts everything into each performance. his Sheriff Teasle is menacing, bigoted, and protective. he comes across like a man who's marked his territory and won't permit intrusions. i won't say he's brilliant, but he is absolutely believable as a small-town sheriff faced with a situation so far out of his own experience that he cannot figure out why he can't solve the problem.
Crenna is a patriarchial character, such as he often seems to play. he gives the Spec Ops Colonal Trautman enough soul to make him seem human, and enough blood and guts to make him seem like a veteran soldier.
of course, the centrepiece to the film is Sylvester Stallone. Stallone always suffers from the perception engendered by his appearance. he is a somewhat short fellow with a body of bulging unpronoucable muscles, and a sad bassett-hound face that looks like it was designed by someone out of "Oliver Twist."
but the man can flat-out act. he gives John Rambo depth and reality. he comes across as far too fit and far too silent because Rambo is far too fit and far too silent. like his character in "Copland," Stallone is playing a guy who pretty much wants to be left alone and is caught up by a bunch of people around him who are overly enthused by their own status.
while i can understand the dismissal of this film as just a patriotic action sop, i cannot also accept that Stallone does not give a good performance. the man has been characatured; he's an easy target. he's a really built short-guy. but Stallone's intelligence and creativity drove his first film, "Rocky," and neither quality has deserted him since. like Michael Caine, he does seem to take any old lame role offered to him. but he always gets paid, and he always puts everything into his performances.
i'll never campaign for this film to be considered a "great" film, but i think i'll always defend it's star as a guy who works too hard too often to get the such little credit.
i guess the best way i can put it is, i watched "First Blood," and i believed him. i believed Stallone.
last time i checked, that is what an actor is supposed to do.
Tom Berenger is a superb actor, and I think his talent is often
He was funny, affecting, and ennobling in "Major League," a comedy about
misbegotten baseball team. He was chilling, on a knife's-edge (a one-man
Hitchcock plot - no way to tell where he was, or what he might do, or
he knew... but no mistaking the motivation and emotion, either...
indescribably human, he was) in "Betrayed." His performance there was
that one hated and feared him from the very start, but ended up praying
he would not be slain. I heard little about his effectiveness in either
case. And yet, there was, of course, his screen-shattering performance
Sgt. Barnes in the brilliant, alligorical, and hard-hitting Oliver Stone
production, "Platoon." He won plaudits for that one, and well-deserved
In this one,"Rough Riders," he is given a juicy, meat-filled slice of adolescent Americana, to play - an incorrigible and inimitable American hero, the irrepressible Theodore Roosevelt. Rather than restraining himself, or attempting to portray TR as - well, as an adult - Berenger seems to let his performance carry itself, unconsciously. He is as over-the-top as TR himself. This is, at all times, under a thin, barely-controlled layer of respectability, very similiar itself to the state in which TR himself seemed to be born. TR's life, much of the time, was a bouncy, swashbuckling melodrama - and Berenger plays all of this to the hilt, and with the necessary controlled-abandon. He might be critisized for over-acting if it wasn't for the plain fact that this is, in fact, the way TR behaved. And anyone who cares to witness Mr. Berenger's other performances (including his most recent roll, as a delightfully dour and cynical sheriff, on USA's "Peacemakers") can see, his sensitivity to the depth of the characters he plays is extraordinary - one can almost pity him, in this case, for choosing to play a man who himself embodied unbelievable melodrama.
Suffice to say, the entire picture is worth watching, just to see bully old Teddy back again, alive and in the flesh, trying to start a war, and then trying to fight and win that war... Berenger brings it all to life, brilliantly. He shouts "bully!" with enthusiasm, he studiously prepares several pairs of spectacles for his expedition to Cuba, we see him trying to improve his piping, asthma-riddled voice, the better to command his soldiers - and, later, we see him fall quite out of his chair at the jest of a comrade, declaiming, "I was overcome with mirth!" Such scenes will overcome the viewer with mirth, as well - but a knowing mirth.
Having said that, this film's best moment is near the beginning, and it involves Illeana Douglas, who plays Teddy's wife, Edith, with a healthy dash of long-suffering tolerance, as if she would leave the set if she could just quit loving the man she'd married. Her defense of the macho (but defenseless) TR in the face of the French is played off terrifically. She comes across as precisely what Edith herself, in fact, was - a woman who had long since resigned herself to the hell-for-leather forays of her headstrong husband... and she defends him with the ruthlessness of a woman who knows that no foreigner will ever understand the boundless Americanism (or worldy childishness) of her husband.
This is not a brilliant film, but it is an entertaining one. The battle scenes are well done, but, aside from what I mentioned above, the real fun in the picture is in the "boot-camp" scenes. A well-cast and icily forbidding Sam Elliott, along with the silent, brooding threat-in-being of David Midthunder, makes these scenes more interesting than the typical military drill-sergeant fare. By the end of the training process, even those watching the movie are longing for the approval of the aloof and mysterious Midthunder - who, in a nicely balanced final scene, explains himself in a way that banishes mystery, conjures comradeship, and evokes sympathy.
One other character commends attention here. Gary Busey plays the ancient Confederate General Joseph Wheeler - a hero of the Civil War (for the South, anyway). Like Berenger, his acting is sure to be termed overdone, excepting the reality that his character was, in fact, a hell-for-leather, horse-riding, Yankee-skewering madman... And there is great pleasure in the watching of Busey bringing this nutty semi-senile General to life. He demands assurances from the President, and we see him repeatedly mistake the Spanish, who we Americans were fighting in this war, for "Yankees." (In the end, the addled, overweight, and over-enthusiastic General settles upon the phrase "them Yankee Spaniards," when referring to the enemy...) It is a fun portrayal of a man whose time has past, but who refuses to acknowledge the fact. Busey's Wheeler is so wound up in the sound of the guns, that he loses all reason, becomes delirious, and yet, beneath it all, hangs inadvertantly to the vestiges of heroism. I think there is little choice but to root for the ill-guided but irresistable General. Having such a melodramatic icon on screen with a viviedly-created TR is almost too much fun to bear.
There is humour and adventure enough for all, in this.
In the end, I recommend this picture for the terrific performances of Tom Berenger and Illeana Douglas, as well as the historical accuracy of much of it. I have left out, in these comments, sympathetic and effective performances by Chris Noth and Holt McCallany, who help make the movie go, and serve to tie the audience into the volunteer soldier idiom. Francesco Quinn brings patriotism, duty, and honour to life - unexpectedly (at least, to Anglo-Americans who know nothing of Latin qualities) in the guise of a love-struck Latin-American. His character, I think, speaks the most towards what modern soldiers might say, that we "all fight for each other." Quinn elevates these platitudes into reality, as the film portrays him carrying out his values, making decisions according to a code he had initially resisted in the interests of staying with his sweetheart. I have also left out Brad Johnson, who's trite "bad-man who learns honour" roll is, nevertheless, well-played. I could write much more... alas, just watch it, and see. A lot of fun. And very, very well done.