Thursday, January 31, 2008

Man on Film: Rambo

Where to begin?...

"Rambo" can be succinctly described by two words: The Balls. This is a film with more than enough balls to go around, for men (and women) with balls, by a man with balls. The result is a film that is The Balls. The Balls. Not balls. The Balls.

As an auteur, Stallone knows exactly what he needs to provide for his audience. In last year's stirring "Rocky Balboa", he tore down Rocky's support structure and pushed the affable aged puncher back into the ring in a heartfelt coda much more faithful to the spirit of the series than its predecessor. With the fourth installment of the Rambo series, Sly brings his damaged super-soldier back as an anonymous old man navigating the Salween River on his ragged longboat, pushing the survivalist into the fray after reluctantly agreeing to guide a group of missionaries into the depths of war-torn Burma to help the brutally oppressed Karen only to have the missionaries captured by the vicious Burmese militia. Stallone draws the intensely private and now reticent hero in by way of an infusion of just a shred of humanity into his spartan life. Being the only man who can show a group of mercenaries where he dropped them off, he is called to action by his new code.

And when John Rambo is called to action shit hits the fan. What unfurls is a righteous spree of unimaginable violence that cinema has never been so lucky to have seen up until now. Tyrannous oppressors meet their maker, and the agent of their maker is clearly John Rambo. To speak of the retribution in exact terms would be a disservice to the shock and awe that any member of the audience should rightfully experience. The inventiveness is simply inspiring.

As to whether this film is faithful to the series, the answer is yes. Bryan Tyler's score carries the Goldsmith torch well. The dialogue is meets the requisite sparseness of a Rambo film. The pacing is brisk; exposition doesn't bog down the opening, and the action comes hard and fast as soon as our hero is thrust back into soldier-mode. The villains are sufficiently deserving of Rambo's wrath. "Rambo" serves as an apt bookend to the series if it ends here. If it doesn't end here, all the better.

"Rambo" does force one to wonder, "What if..." What if Sylvester Stallone had been allowed to helm the previous installments. He is attuned to what drives his characters psychologically. He is conscious of what strings to pull to draw the emotions of the audience into the fold entirely. He is gifted with the ability necessary to fully realize his vision. What could those first three "Rambo" films, which were already great in their own ways, have been under the control of Stallone the auteur?

Perhaps this is unfair. Perhaps he has been able to come around to this incarnation as skilled action filmmaker through the wisdom attained through time and experience, but the fact remains that he has been able to achieve exactly what he has set out to twice in as many years, and his future projects (he owns the rights to "Death Wish", "The Mechanic", and "The Lion's Game" and has long been trying to get an Edgar Allan Poe film into production) will surely lead to more success. Will we get to see Sly play handball with this generation's Jan Michael Vincent? Only time will tell.

What can be said is that a world in which Sylvester Stallone gets to make films as he knows how is a much better world than we all deserve.

Personal Addendum: There have been an inordinate amount of negative reviews of this film (but not from the paper of record). When reading these reviews, it becomes abundantly clear that these are from the desks of the weak. If reading a bad review of "Rambo" doesn't make you want to see it even more, I can't help but wonder what you are even doing at this site.

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