Sylvester Stallone has a great look in First Blood. His body is pallid and wiry, teetering on the edge of malnourished. As an outline, it's worlds away from the inflated, oiled musculature of the later instalments. Stallone's physique isn't the draw here, instead it's a tool, a coiled visual signifier in a despondent film about being chewed up then spat out by an uncaring world. Complimenting the star's brutally svelte form is a long, unkempt hairstyle that acts as a frame for his face. The mop sits like a pair of drooping Basset Hound ears, drawing out Stallone's massive, brown eyes. In Rocky III, Stallone shot his own face to suggest sternness, a massive patriarchal figure struggling to make sense of his messy extended family.
For First Blood, Ted Kotcheff and cinematographer Andrew Laszlo use Stallone's eyes as a way to communicate a frazzled, bestial, calculation. John Rambo is always cautious, constantly running angles and assessing his predicament. Undermined by a brace of sequels that revelled in increasingly bloody violence, First Blood distinguishes itself by focusing on a character that is reluctant to do any real damage to his opposition. The Police and National Guard that chase Rambo up into the hills aren't engaged as an equal threat. Instead he stalks them, bleeding and undermining, demonstrating a withering assessment of their position in the pecking order. Rambo's violence is a calculated attempt to assert a terrifying level of dominance - he doesn't intend to kill his pursuers, he'd rather scare them off. Rambo just wants to be left alone.