by Anthony King
As far as acting chops goes it seems as though Sylvester Stallone gets a bad rap. True, his filmography touts action masterpieces like Cobra, Over the Top, Tango & Cash, Judge Dredd, and dozens more memorable roles where he's playing it big. He has spawned two franchises (Rocky and Rambo) that had successful initial runs only to give each franchise new life in the next millennium. No other actor/filmmaker has done that besides George Lucas. The characters of Rocky Balboa and John Rambo, while perhaps becoming caricatures in their later years (Rambo more so than Rocky), have had theatrical drawing power over five separate decades! In 2011 he birthed another franchise with The Expendables, banking on his and his comrades' action-specific star power. While first getting noticed in movies like Lords of Flatbush and Death Race 2000, two very different types of roles, Rocky, written by the man himself, is a great showcase of Sly's acting chops. And Stallone doesn't become the dual machine gun-toting cartoon character we now picture him as until Rambo: First Blood Part II, nearly a decade full of great and unique performances after Rocky. In that decade Stallone first shows the world the character of John Rambo in Ted Kotcheff's First Blood and, in this writer's humble opinion, his finest acting performance.
As for the post-Vietnam War/PTSD messaging of the film, First Blood leans more into exploitation territory. The film opens with John Rambo meandering into a tiny lakeside village searching for an old army buddy. He's smiling, there's a bounce in his step, and Jerry Goldsmith's score is jovial and sweet. When it's revealed his friend has died of cancer brought on by Agent Orange, Rambo's smile disappears in an instant, his eyes become wet, the bounce in his step is gone, and his head sags. The trauma-induced depression that had been living inside him rears its ugly head and, as much as he fights it, emotional instability begins to thrive. None of this, though, makes Rambo a bad guy. In fact, it only aids in the growth of our empathy for the man. We've seen a brief glimpse of the John Rambo before Vietnam, and now we see the John Rambo after Vietnam and the aftereffects of this senseless war.Cop Land are where Stallone gives his best performances. The setting, Goldsmith's score, the heart. It's all there, and it wraps me up like a heated blanket.