DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: RAMBO III

Monday 14 July 2008


Rambo III (1988) dir. Peter MacDonald
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna


“Rambo III” in 1988 was a big deal. It was a $65million film, an enormous budget for its day, starring perhaps cinema’s biggest star and released in the coveted Memorial Day summer slot. The budget allowed the improvement of production value over the “Rambo: First Blood Part II,” and the topical Afghanistan setting seemed less exploitive and more relevant to 1988. It’s the second best film of the series, behind the classic “First Blood”.

Years after Rambo rescued those left-behind Vietnam POVs in “Rambo: First Blood Part II”, John has retired in Thailand where he helps a group of Monks in a local village. To make ends meet he competes for money in a Bangkok stick-fighting arena (which makes for a fantastic opening sequence!). When Rambo learns Col Trautman has gone missing in Afghanistan, he comes out of a retirement for a solo rescue mission to find his trusted friend.

On his journey he befriends a group of Afghan rebels who, despite inferiority in weaponry have been battling the invading Soviets on guts and courage. With Rambo’s help the rebels organize and take down the evil Soviets.

To get Rambo to Afghanistan, there’s a number of logic holes to surmount, chief of which is Col Trautman, played Richard Crenna, a 60+ year old man who leads a covert unit inside Afghanistan. Really? Of the entire United States, he’s the best man for the job? And why Rambo is only soldier in the world who can do the job?

It was easier to fool 1988 audiences these days with these dalliances. Modern equivalents use humour to acknowledge these stretches of believability. Just look at the self-reverential humour in “Iron Man” or “Spider-Man”. “Rambo III” somehow manages to succeed, even two decades later. There’s barely an ounce of humour in the film, the story is played completely serious and Stallone and company confidently gets away with it. Other films of its kind cannot say the same thing – any of the Norris films, or 80’s Schwarzenegger films are completely forgettable in comparison.

Rookie director Peter MacDonald (then only a camera operator and second unit director) is quick to establish the set-up and then move into the action. In fact, in three minutes and less than a page of dialogue, Rambo is approached by Trautman in Thailand to lead the mission, Trautman goes to Afghanistan and is caught, the Army commander goes back to Thailand to tell Rambo about the fuck-up which quickly changes his mind, and at the end of the sequence Rambo is in Afghanistan looking for Trautman. An amazing condensation of time which most people wouldn’t notice if they hadn’t seen the film a dozen times (I know, I suck).

Sly doesn’t get the credit he deserves as one of cinema’s great physical actors. Rambo is a character defined by actions, not words. And when he’s not stabbing people or firing his guns, Stallone’s physical presence, steely-eyed stares and pensive thoughts defines the complexities of the man. Stallone’s Rambo, despite his military skills, is as vulnerable as any soldier. Unlike other cinema super soldiers victories don’t come easy. Whether it’s sewing up a cut with a needle and thread or cauterizing a wound with gunpowder, Rambo gets beaten down as often as he kills. Perhaps only Marlon Brando bests Stallone for talent in expressing on-screen pain.

This is why Rambo is such a great character. “Rambo III” is an intense film, it has all the explosions, carnage and death as everyone remembers from the time, but the violence appears justified and realistic because there’s passion in Stallone’s character to win. The best example of this is the best scene in the film, when the Soviet army invades the Afghan village with a number of high tech gunships. Rambo’s lengthy run across the village to the lone artillery machine gun demonstrates the intense and determination of his character. He then destroys a multi-million dollar piece of a equipment with his raw power and determination. Enjoy.

Other related postings:
First Blood

1 comment :

Michael Miller said...

I protest! Chuck Norris' Delta Force and Arnie's Commando were every bit as good. Besides, Rambo 3 isn't completely serious. It contains the following line:

- Who do you think this Rambo is? God?
- No. God would have mercy. He won't!