Sylvester Stallone, in tight cashmere, his forearms as ripped as Popeyes, enters the hotel suite, which has been arranged for a mini press conference. The chairs are filled with Rambo reporters, some wearing Rambo bandanas, Rambo T-shirts, Rambo fatigues.
What happened to the shot where you punched the guys head clear off? The reporter is referring to the so-called sizzle reel shown at the Cannes Film Festival last year to generate interest among overseas distributors for the fourth and perhaps final installment in the Rambo saga, a journey that Stallone compares favourably to the wanderings of the relative pantywaist Ulysses in the Odyssey.
Rambo, the film, written, directed, produced by and starring Stallone, opened on Friday and is perhaps the most graphically violent R-rated movie ever.
I know, Stallone says, about the sizzle reel. His laugh is a low growl. Thats an optical confusion. What it was, was a knife, and it was such a bad print it looked like I punched his head off. I was reading the blogs. I was, Come on guys, look closely, nobody can punch someones head off.
But if anyone could, surely...
When youre pushed, says John J. Rambo, killings as easy as breathing.
And his buttons are most definitely pushed in the new movie. It opens with Rambo, the former Green Beret, seemingly abandoned by both his country and his beloved father figure Col. Trautman. Hes living as a monosyllabic misanthrope in a hooch at the Thai Snake Farm, where tourists pay to watch performers harass cobras collected in the jungle by Rambo, whose first line of dialogue is a percussive profanity.
It has been two decades since Rambo was last seen fighting alongside the Mujahideen in Afghanistan, which he visited to rescue his beloved puppet master Col. Trautman (played by Richard Crenna) from the Russkies in the poorly received Rambo III.
The years appear to have been kind to Stallone. He is 61. His face has softened, tenderised like a piece of flank steak, whacked by a meat mallet. He sports all his unnaturally jet black hair. His skin tone and resilience are excellent, perhaps benefiting from his model wife Jennifer Flavin-Stallones line of beauty care products (he plugs her Olive Oil Moisture Cream).With a bandana wrapped around his head in the movie, he resembles Sitting Bull. It is intentional.
The ponderousness that comes with ageing, the sense of weight, the sense of knowledge, of knowing too much, the lack of naivete, which has happened in my life, set the stage for me, he explains. I wanted Rambo to be heavier, bulkier, thats why his first line in the movie is pretty negative. Hes given up. He has nothing.
Stallone says, The other Rambos had a bit too much energy, were a bit too spry. Im not trying to run myself down but there was much more vanity involved. By which he means that shirtless Rambo of yore with pectorals hard as dinner plates, glistening with baby oil as he writhes in agony and ecstasy on a makeshift cross? Exactly.
It was all about body movement rather than the ferocity and commitment of what he was doing, Stallone says of his previous Rambos. This character to me is much more interesting.
Its one of the most violent movies...
Stallone interrupts, Not one of the most. I worked very hard for this.
Stallone says he was surprised that the Motion Picture Association of America gave the film an R rating: When babies are being bayonetted and people are being flamed, I thought this will never go. But he told the ratings board, I said guys, this is happening today — and if were ever going to do something that responds, where art has the ability to influence peoples awareness and impact the lives of these people, dont dilute it, dont water it down.... Dont cut away too soon. Let it sink in. I want people to feel it. To their credit, they allowed this film to be as truthful as it could.
Stallone is referring to the plight of the Karen people and the Burmese military junta that crushed the pro-democracy Saffron Revolution led by monks this fall — after the film was wrapped, which manages to make Sylvester Stallone, as a kind of human rights activist, appear prescient.
As you look at the opening credits, which contain actual news footage, Stallone says, I had to live up to a certain responsibility, because people are dying as were making the film. Therefore to just have me running through the film doing these extraordinary heroics I thought would demean what they are going through. So they had to have their moment, where you see a village decimated. In fact, its even worse. Meaning that he had to destroy the village in order to save it.
Stallone has been mulling a final (perhaps) Rambo movie for a very long time. Initially, the studios thought, hey, why not a caper film? Like they wanted to have the corrupt CIA agent trying to sell plutonium rods. I said no. The biggest and most interesting crisis in the world is a human crisis. It never gets boring. It goes back to Shakespeare. Its man against man and their intolerance of each other, Stallone says.
I did research and found that Myanmar is one of the great hell-holes of the world. But no one knows about it. Its exotic and its near Vietnam and the synergy was perfect.
I dont know if its coming across, Stallone says, but the message is accept who you are, accept who you are, and finally Rambo does. He accepts it. I kill for myself. I dont kill for my country. Stop using this excuse that Im a hero. Im not. I got this penchant for violence inside of me that has to come out. During a dream sequence, which flashes on all the previous Rambos, this Rambo dreams that his beloved enabler Col. Trautman actually kills him, puts him out of his misery.
But no. The warrior needs to war, he says. Muscles are easy. Anybody can do muscles. You can do violence, violence, violence, action, action, action, but if you can find those little moments in between that connect with people, that arent so physical, thats what takes the time, thats the challenge, thats what I love about it.