Saturday, January 26, 2008

WIBW @ The Movies: RAMBO

The Plot: Many years after his last documented conflict, John Rambo is living peacefully and simply in Thailand. After a great deal of convincing, he agrees to escort a small group of Christian aid workers across the border into the hot zone that is Burma via his boat. Not long after their arrival, the village that the group has come to help is attacked by the Burmese army and Rambo is called upon to lead a gang of mercenaries into the region to rescue the missing American civilians.

The Review: While I enjoy and appreciate the original three Rambo films for what they are (relatively mindless eighties action movies), they have never graced my list of favorite action films. This, the fourth installment of the confusingly titled Rambo/First Blood franchise, continues the tradition of being about mindless action, but adds a great production value, a cast of competent actors, and a lot more realism than we've seen in the series up to this point to the mix.

With the possible exception of First Blood, Rambo is a massive step up in the plot department. This feels a bit odd to say though, considering that there is very little substance to the story in this film. The plot of Rambo is literally as simple as "some people are taken hostage and Rambo and co. have to get them back". There are certainly statements being made in this film about the state of affairs in Burma and what it means to have compassion or contempt for your fellow man, but these things don't play too large of a role in the story line. Rambo knows it's place in the modern film landscape and doesn't try to over-step it's bounds by becoming too complicated for it's own good like so many action films try to do these days. It is short, simple, and to the point. And speaking of short, though IMDb claims that Rambo is ninety three minutes long, I'm (almost) positive that it is in fact shorter than an hour and a half. Either that or my cell phone's clock is broken.

I dare say that the one major flaw in Rambo is also one of it's greatest strengths. I am of course speaking of the violence. Not since the horrifically realistic opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan have I seen brutally eye-opening violence of such severity in a movie. If you think Stephen Spielberg's beaches of Normandy scene was gory and gut-wrenchingly horrendous though, you haven't seen anything until you've watched Rambo. As big of a fan of horror and action movies as I am, it takes a lot to wow me in the violence/gore department, but I found myself with my mouth agape at several points throughout Rambo. The violence and shocking imagery in the action scenes of this film simply cannot be described. You have to see it to believe it. As I said, this aspect of the movie is both it's greatest flaw and it's greatest strength. There were some people who walked out of the theater immediately following the scene in which the Burmese army attacked and ravaged the small village that the aid workers were attempting to help, proving that the reality of the situation is just too much for some to stomach. Then again, had the violence been toned down or avoided in any way a lot of Rambo's validity would have gone right out the window and it would have become just as dismissible as the previous installments of the series.

At 61 years old, Sylvester Stallone hasn't played the character of John Rambo for just under two whole decades, but take my word for it when I say that he's still got it. His character felt just as capable of causing massive amounts of carnage as he always has, and any shortcomings which he may show in Rambo are completely understandable based upon the age of the character, not just the age of the actor portraying him. Not only did Stallone bring the character of Rambo back with perfection however, he also wrote and directed the film expertly. The men playing the mercenaries accompanying Rambo on his rescue mission were over the top in every way that you would expect characters like theirs to be, but were also likable and all well cast. Julie Benz and Paul Schulze's characters were also stereotypical in ways that served to advance the plot and character development of the film. The Burmese soldiers served their purpose well, which was simply to make the audience hate them to the point that they were rooting for them to die. As much of a surprise as it is for me to say it, for what it was, Rambo was probably about as perfect a film as it could have been.

The Verdict: The action of Rambo is stunning in both the sense that it is shocking and incredible to watch. The film doesn't try to be overly deep or intelligent and has the piece of mind to remain short and to the point, which is what any movie of this caliber should do. It has an impact and is both well made and fun to watch. Rambo isn't Shakespeare, but it's a damn good movie.


JesseMunoz said...

awesome! i cant wait to see it!

Ricky said...

I was blown away by Rambo as well. It's by far the most brutally gory movie I've ever seen, but none of the violence is senseless. You called it a flaw and a strength in your review, but I wouldn't consider the violence a flaw at all. The level of violence was a necessary tool used to convey the true horror of war. Most movies trivialize death by portraying it so non-chalantly, Rambo shows you the true face of war, and shows you just how horrible it is. Every death in this movie matters to you, and you connect with it on an emotional level, as well as the usual adrenaline pumping action level. It's this emotional undertone that really pushes Rambo beyond any previous film in the genre. I would also argue, that while you say the story is simple, there is a lot more going on there. The whole film has this very depressing, very real atmosphere, and it really does hit you emotionally and get you to truly hate the antagonists and want them to be brought to justice. Basically, I agree that the plot is simple, and there is also a simple message, but it is conveyed so strongly that it does give the film more depth than what would appear on paper. It's an experience. in this film you witness the boundaries of violence shown on screen pushed to an extreme, but necessary, new limit. The first instance I'd seen of this was, as you said, in Saving Private Ryan, but Rambo goes so much further and accordingly, makes you feel even more strongly about every death in the film. It's an incredible movie and I'd recommend it to anyone with the stomach for it.

Rian said...

Ricky - I only say that the violence in the film is a flaw inasmuch as it will limit the audience that is either willing to or able to watch it. On the subject of the simplicity of the plot, I will quote my own review: "There are certainly statements being made in this film about the state of affairs in Burma and what it means to have compassion or contempt for your fellow man, but these things don't play too large of a role in the story line." I believe that essentially states that we agree with one another as I am saying that although there are other things going on in the film aside from the most basic of premises, none of them particularly do much to drive the plot.

Joel Lolar said...

I really enjoyed rambo as well and felt the opening scenes where sly played I hate the world and everyone in it rambo were so awesome.He really nailed it