The film centers on John Rambo, a former member of the United States Army Special Forces (an elite Special Operations unit) who fought in Vietnam and was a Medal of Honor recipient for his actions there. Rambo has difficulty adjusting to civilian life and wanders the country as a drifter. The film begins as he is seeking out his friend Delmore Barry, apparently the only other Special Forces member from his unit to make it out of Vietnam alive.
Rambo finds out from Barry's widow that he died from cancer due to Agent Orange exposure, and she is clearly very upset that she lost the man she loved and is also left to eke out a meagre existence on her own. Rambo, in an attempt to offer some cold comfort to her, gives her the photograph of her husband's unit. This also hurts Rambo deeply as now he realizes that he is the last of his unit.
Brian Dennehy as the Sheriff Will Teasle.
Left to continue drifting, Rambo runs afoul of Will Teasle, the sheriff of a small Washington State mountain resort town called Hope (set in Hope, WA. - filmed in Hope, British Columbia). Teasle drives Rambo out of town while telling him the people of Hope don't appreciate people of his kind: drifters. Rambo asks for a place to eat, but Teasle refuses him courtesy in the town. Rambo is dropped outside of town but heads back, refusing to be pushed out. Teasle forcefully stops and arrests Rambo for vagrancy, resisting arrest, and carrying a concealed weapon (a large survival knife which he claims is for hunting).
Teasle brings Rambo back to the station, where he is beaten by Art Galt (Jack Starrett), the sheriff's sadistic head deputy. Some of the officers are sympathetic to Rambo, but are also ignorant or meek. During the beatings, Rambo has flashbacks to his time as a prisoner of war. The sight of a straight razor, as the deputies attempt to shave him, brings to Rambo's mind horrible torture when he was a POW and causes Rambo to panic violently. He disables the officers with nothing but his hands, escapes the police station with his knife, and heads into the mountains on a stolen motorcycle. Teasle gives pursuit in his police car, which is overturned after an extended chase. Rambo flees into the hills, wearing only his jeans, shoes and a tank-top, useless in fending off the cold weather. Rambo quickly improvises cold weather gear with items he finds at the remains of a construction site.
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