Bo Gritz claims to be the inspiration for Rambo and has killed around 400 people (his estimate). The former Special Forces officer is one of America’s most decorated veterans and has had the support of Clint Eastwood. Filmmaker Andrea Luka Zimmerman and team spent 10 years filming interviews with him, and the results are as fascinating as they are timely.
Whether speaking at gun shows or recalling his dealings with Reagan, Gritz demonstrates the kind of right-wing extremity that paved the way for Trump. Yet Zimmerman resists setting him up for a fall, or poking fun at him. Never seen or heard, this documentarian is interested in getting to the heart of a complex man – now 79 – whose dedication to the military seems intrinsically linked to the absence of his father, and whose compassion seems to be largely reserved for members of the armed forces.
This also examines the success of the Rambo films, intended as a plea for peace but co-opted by trigger-happy macho culture – ‘First Blood’ director Ted Kotcheff is visibly devastated about this when interviewed. Contributions from veterans suffering from PTSD add a sad note, but this is Gritz’s show and he knows it. Of course, he’s more revealing when caught off guard than he is when parroting well-worn lines, so credit to Zimmerman and her (mostly female) crew for catching those moments.
This has its darkly amusing scenes, too – a gun and knife show wouldn’t be out of place in a Louis Theroux doc (‘We’ve got clips, grips, we’ve got ammo clothing, we’ve got jewellery for the ladies… there’s something for everybody!’) And, as seen briefly, Theroux has also had his moment with Gritz. But the sheer amount of time Zimmerman has spent on this makes it an especially probing portrait of a wounded man and his role in the fetishisation of state-sanctioned violence.