Blog Directory CineVerse: Shooting blanks in a violent world

Shooting blanks in a violent world

Thursday, March 15, 2018

What if they refilmed "First Blood" but told it entirely from the perspective of the National Guardsmen who were pursuing John Rambo? You'd get a movie somewhat similar to "Southern Comfort," a thinly veiled critique of America's bloody and futile involvement in the Vietnam War. Before dismissing this action-centric genre outing as merely escapist entertainment for the testosterone crowd, ponder the merits of this underrated picture. That was our mission last evening at CineVerse, and here is the dossier we came up with:


  • We don’t see a lot of character development. Instead he uses stylistically interesting visuals and tight editing to help tell his story. 
    • Essayist Ian Murphy wrote in Bright Lights Film Journal: “(Director Walter) Hill is as much a visual stylist as he is a storyteller. (His style)…happens to be more finely attuned to the spare poetics of male action cinema than any other American filmmaker of his generation. He has an intuitive understanding of locale, a painterly eye for composition, and a gift for choreographing fights, chases, and shoot-outs with rhythmic precision. 
  • The environment and setting become a major character in the movie. Think about how the bayou terrain is rendered in such a harsh, exaggerated visual design, making it appear almost like the landscape of some alien world. 
    • “Natural light was rigorously drained from the frame through the use of overhead silks, tarps, and smoke that engulfed the bayou trees in a canopy of gloom, while black-dot filters served to add a layer of grain to the image, muting the color contrast and allowing the detail of human figures to blend menacingly into shadowy ground,” added Murphy. He noted how the landscape was “rendered in a hundred monochromatic shades of green and gray, with the men’s military fatigues near-indistinguishable from the murky waters they trudge through — human frailty swallowed whole by a hostile environment.” 
  • It arguably feels more violent and graphically disturbing than it actually is. “As in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, you have the feeling in this film of social breakdown, of an erosion of conventionally orienting perspectives,” wrote Chuck Bowen in his Slant Magazine review. 
  • The folly of waging an unjust or underestimated war. This film is an obvious allegory for America’s bloody and frustrating involvement in the Vietnam War. 
  • Strangers in a strange land. These soldiers are fish out of water, placed in a domestic setting that ironically looks and feels like an alien environment. 
  • Survival of the fittest. 
  • Man against nature, and nature’s revenge on man. The Cajuns seem more like an elemental force of nature, like the wrath of the earth itself, than a group of men fighting other men. Consider, also, the repeated pattern we see of slaughtered animals, as evidenced by the gutted pig, the hanging rabbit skins, the fish caught in a branch and the butchered deer. These could be symbols of man’s wild and savage nature, or of survival of the fittest. Man can inflict the same kind of savage violence upon his fellow man as he can upon animals (recall the knife fight, the bullet to the head, the impalement death, etc.) 
  • Impotence and powerlessness. The soldiers are shooting blanks, while the Cajuns have all manner of weapons and crude technology at their disposal. 
  • Deliverance 
  • Post-Vietnam action thrillers like Rolling Thunder, Who’ll Stop the Rain, Cutter’s Way and First Blood 
  • The morally sophisticated 1950s westerns by Howard Hawks, John Ford, Anthony Mann and Bud Boetticher, “where groups of people with conflicting personalities and goals try to make their way through lawless territory,” wrote Noel Murray of The Dissolve. 
  • Men charged with a mission war films like The Big Red One by Sam Fuller 
  • John Carpenter’s The Thing, another action picture with lack of character development but a compelling plot and suspenseful design 
  • Slasher horror films such as the Friday the 13th movies 
  • Two Thousand Maniacs! 
  • Hard Times 
  • The Driver 
  • The Warriors 
  • The Long Riders 
  • 48 Hours 
  • Streets of Fire 
  • Crossroads

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