Saturday, January 26, 2008
Sylvester Stallone’s RAMBO is the most entertaining, brutal, vicious, nihilistic and savagely bad-ass action film in almost 25 years. You would have to go back to the Italian cinema of the early eighties to find a more exhilarating and primal film than the one Stallone has delivered here.
RAMBO is the absolute opposite to pretty much any other film out right now which is one thing that makes it so incredibly refreshing. It’s a grueling, ugly, rain and mud soaked work that feels more like an authentic Grindhouse film from a few decades ago than any other modern film I could possibly imagine.
Stallone, directing as if he is channeling Ruggero Deodato, thankfully pulls the series out of the macho cheesiness that hampered Parts Two and Three and returns his iconic character to the downtrodden outsider that marked the masterful FIRST BLOOD twenty five years ago. If ROCKY BALBOA was a heartfelt haunting elegiac finale to his key series, then his RAMBO is a angry go for the throat attempt at reclaiming the action genre from the Michael Bay slick hell than it has found itself in the past two decades.
Beginning with some chilling real life news footage of modern day Burma, Stallone’s film centers on a group of Christian missionaries who seek out an American boatman named John Rambo to take them up the river where they can deliver medicine and supplies. After doing so, the missionaries are kidnapped and Rambo returns with a group of mercenaries to rescue them. That’s the plot of this lean and savage film in a nutshell. Like the best of Stallone’s work, the screenplay for RAMBO is a jewel of minimalism and simplicity. Stallone has always been a genius at taking the simplest of stories and transcending them into something unexpected and surprisingly complex, and RAMBO does just that.
RAMBO fits very nicely into the classic Hollywood mold that Stallone has always delighted into playing into. Here we have all of the stock characters of the genre…evil villains, a few key supporting characters and even a damsel in distress surrounding a lone isolated title figure. The genius of Stallone is that he values these standard conventions…he embraces them, and in his best work he finally transcends them.
Stallone’s new film is a triumph on nearly every front. Easily the best of the series since FIRST BLOOD, RAMBO works mostly as a tribute to just how powerful a figure Sylvester Stallone can be. Gone is the slender and musical vision that populated Parts Two and Three and in its place is a brooding beast of a man who casually tosses off lines like, “Fuck the world” and “Live for something or die for nothing” like a practiced mantra that he whispers to himself each morning upon waking up. Stallone’s Rambo is quite unlike any other character in film history…half hero and half horrific killing machine, John Rambo remains a terrifying and yet totally enduring creation.
Stallone's RAMBO might be the most violent film ever released with an R Rating in Hollywood history. It’s the kind of film SAVING PRIVATE RYAN would have been if Steven Spielberg had any real kind of film making balls, which he doesn’t. By the way, if someone like Spielberg’s name was attached to this film exactly as it is, it would be greeted as a revisionist classic by the same critics who are currently trashing Stallone. RAMBO is the kind of film that will invite disdain from the critical establishment, intellectuals and film snobs, but trust me, this film will last much longer than most of the ‘great’ film that will appear throughout the upcoming year.
I mentioned at the outset the Italian films of the early eighties and it is productions CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, THE NEW BARBARIANS and CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE that Stallone is clearly paying tribute to here. Fans of those films would be advised to check out RAMBO as soon as possible even if they have never admired the work of Sylvester Stallone. Even more than the works of more celebrated genre enthusiasts like Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, Sylvester Stallone hits on an authentically brilliant and grimy feel with RAMBO that is incredibly seductive and hard to shake. With its many be-headings, severed limbs, stakings and stabbings, the carnage in RAMBO achieves an almost surreal and dizzying quality that is rarely seen in even the harshest of American or World cinema.
The difference between RAMBO and the Italian pictures that preceded it is a marked one though. Whereas Deodato had his cannibals, and Fulci had his zombies, Stallone has Stallone. Sylvester Stallone is his own greatest creation and as he did with ROCKY BALBOA, he return his second greatest character to an absolute grace with RAMBO.
I suppose it's not a perfect film and I am sure re-viewings will make its problems clearer but for now I just want to bask in the excitement of it. As the late Jerry Goldsmith's theme kicked in yesterday and RAMBO came to a close, I felt a real satisfaction that I rarely feel anymore in a theater. RAMBO will be a punching bag for critics and many film goers but I highly doubt I will enjoy or be more enthralled by another American film this year.