Today I watched Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo (2008)
Twenty years after the last entry in the Rambo franchise, Stallone revisits one of his most iconic roles. Rambo has abandoned America, probably for the better considering how much they abused him, and now lives as a river guide in the south-east Asian jungle where a group of mercenaries hire him to aid in the saving of a number of christian missionaries who have been captured in war torn Burma. The plot very smartly avoids getting into the details of the region’s real world conflicts, I doubt it would have done such events justice though perhaps using this backdrop without getting into the specifics is equally as unjust.
To my surprise this film does not follow in the simple mindless action of the second and third movies and instead tries to revitalize the first film’s philosophical nature. It is a particularly brutal and cynical philosophy on display here as Stallone explores the inhumanity of combat and the seeming ease with which violent acts are committed by mankind. Rambo thus sheds his jingoistic skin the last two films forced upon him and returns to being a dark, but empathetic shadow of societies darker elements.
I don’t think Stallone gets enough credit as both an actor and filmmaker. In terms of his performances, I admit he is limited, but when a role fits him, it really fits him. He also has a way with words that I don’t think a lot of people realize, the guy wrote the original Rocky all by himself (or is at least the only credit) and he can capture the voice of pulpy characters like Rocky and Rambo in a way that makes them believable and also sets them up as more than just muscle headed protagonists, he injects them with humanity. Now he has made his share of stinkers, plenty of them, but I don’t think this is one of them, like I said, when he fits he fits.
This film is tense, brutal, and extremely violent all the better to highlight mankind’s inhumanity. But films this grim can be a hard sell, don’t watch it because you had a bad day and need a pick me up. This is a movie that delves the depths of human nature with a grim sense of self loathing expressed by Rambo. I want to mention it but also note my own uneducated nature on the subject but this film has had an interesting reception in Burma itself, being both condemned and praised and used as propaganda in equal measure. It bears mentioning but I really do not know what to think of this all too real element of the film’s impact in real conflicts, at least it does not shy away from showing the horrific treatment of the Karen people.
Some critics have found the level of violence in this movie far too grotesque and not entertaining, good, that’s the point, violence is not entertaining in real life. The viciousness that this film portrays does a lot to counteract the warmongering American nationalism the series unfortunately became known for after the second and third atrocious entries. This really is the definitive Rambo film as the post-Vietnam angst of the original novel takes complete control of the narrative. This film shows us why Rambo couldn’t fit in when he returned to America and shows us the cost of being a killer as he can barely live with himself. 5/5