John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) is a former member of an extremely elite commando unit from the Vietnam War who received the Medal of Honor (the highest military honor awarded) for his service. Several years after he was discharged, he learns that the last of his comrades has died from cancer. Upset, Rambo wanders into the small town of Hope, Washington. He is bullied by an overzealous Sheriff Will Teasle (Brian Dennehy), who considers him no better than dirt. When Rambo asks for something to eat, the Sheriff arrests him on some bull-shit charges of vagrancy, resisting arrest, and possessing a concealed knife.
Led by sadistic chief deputy Art Galt (Jack Starrett), Teasle’s officers humiliate and abuse Rambo, causing him to flash back to the torture he endured as a POW in Vietnam. When they try to dry-shave him with a straight razor, Rambo snaps, attacks them, and flees into the woods. A furious and foolish Teasle organizes a search party—complete with automatic weapons, dogs, and a helicopter—to recapture him. During the search, Galt spots Rambo and tries to kill him by shooting him Rambo from a helicopter—Galt’s actions were in direct defiance of orders, attempting to snipe Rambo from the helicopter. Rambo throws a rock in self-defense, causing Galt to fall to his death.
Utilizing his killing skills, Rambo disables the deputies non-lethally one by one (though he could have easily killed them all a “tactical mistake” as his former commander tells the Sherriff), until only Teasle is left. Holding a knife to his throat, and tells him to “let things go.”
Teasle decides to pursue him anyways, the Washington State Patrol and the Washington Army National Guard are called in to assist the manhunt. At the same time, Rambo’s mentor Colonel Sam Trautman (Richard Crenna) arrives with reports of Rambo’s abilities. Ignoring Trautman’s advice Teasle refuses.
The authorities corner Rambo at the entrance of an abandoned mine; against orders, they use a M72 LAW rocket, collapsing the entrance and leaving no evidence.
Having survived the assault, Rambo escapes the mine and hijacks a supply truck, which he uses to return to town. To distract his pursuers, he starts a fire at a gas station, shoots down power lines, and destroys several storefronts with a stolen M60 machine gun.
Teasle positions himself on the roof of his station to search for Rambo, unaware that he is directly below. The two engage in a brief firefight, which ends with Teasle falling through a skylight badly injured. Rambo prepares to kill him, but Trautman arrives and warns Rambo that he will be shot if Teasle dies. Unwilling to defy Trautman, the only man who understands what he endured, Rambo goes into a rant about the treatment he received before surrendering. He is put into state custody and driven away as Teasle is sent to the hospital.
What intrigues me about this movie is that its story line is actually pretty interesting—and was really one of the first movies that dealt with disaffected soldiers who come back from conflicts abroad. Much like we are seeing people today returning from the Middle East who are having problems readjusting to society. This is not your typical action movie, it shows what can happen when authorities push people too far and in my opinion often get what they deserve. Watching Rambo slice these armature police like butter but they never get the message that sometimes you just need to let things go.