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A comment re the other comments: A lot of the comments criticize the
first half hour as being too long. In my opinion, these comments miss
the point of the movie.
Of course many of the scenes in the first hour don't advance the narrative. They're not supposed to; they're for character development.
The whole point of the movie is to show us how the various characters were affected by the war. It wouldn't have worked nearly as powerfully as it does had the first hour been trimmed down. We have to sense the careless and frat-boy-like immaturity of these young men. That's why the scenes all revolve around frivolity and seemingly senseless boyish behavior; it creates such a stark contrast to the devastated characters of the three who went to war (and the relatively unaffected personalities of those who stayed behind, like Stanley).
The strong points of the film are the outstanding performances of nearly every actor in the movie. Yes, there are technical deficiencies in the sound, but it hardly matters. This is nitpicking compared to the overall construction of the film.
No, this is not the best film about the Vietnam War; it's hardly about
Vietnam at all. The vets who don't like it have it wrong, as do the
Vietnamese who found it racist. It could be any war, with any
combatants. But because the (primary) victims here are recognizable
American archetypes, Americans will feel this in their gut more than
any other war film I know of. This is one of the very few post-war
Hollywood films that shows a sincere reverence for the lives of small
After seeing it in a very high quality theater on its initial release, I walked out thinking it was easily one of the best movies I had ever seen - and that I never wanted to see it again. But I looked at it today on cable and found that not much had changed about it, or me. I don't want to see it again...but I want you to see it.
Even now, the Russian Roulette scene (in context, people: watch all that comes before it first) is the single most intense sequence I've seen; it makes the end of "Reservoir Dogs" seem like a cartoon. Best Walken performance, period. Meryl Streep glows, DeNiro has seldom been more affecting. A unique classic...it is not surprising that Cimino didn't have another movie in him after something this wrenching.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"One shot is what it's all about. A deer has to be taken with one
There's that particularly infamous scene in "The Deer Hunter" that seems to remain more disturbing each time we view it, when Michael (Robert De Niro), a Vietnam veteran, tracks down a friend of his named Nicky (Christopher Walken), who never arrived home after the war and is eventually found in Saigon, playing Russian Roulette for money, his mind an utter mess. He is unable to fully remember Michael, and refuses to return home, and what proceeds in the following sequence is a haunting example of gut-wrenching film-making.
The Vietnam sequences take place midway through the movie, serving as a connection between the beginning and the end, both of which study the lives of the men and not the war around them. Michael, Nicky and Steven (John Savage) are young Pennsylvanian miners drafted into the war. Steven has just gotten married to the love of his life, but has little time to celebrate as he is shipped overseas with his friends. They eventually all find themselves taken hostage in a Vietnamese POW camp where their captors force them to play Russian Roulette. The rules of the game? Put a single bullet in a random chamber of a handgun, spin it, snap it, raise it to your head, squeeze the trigger, and repeat these steps until there's only one man left standing.
After a series of fortunate events Michael, Nicky and Steven escape and make their way downriver. All three men are eventually rescued, Nicky via helicopter and Michael and Steven later on. Steven's battered, infected legs are amputated and he is left helpless in a wheelchair. Michael returns home as well only to find that Nicky is still back in Vietnam. Nicky's girlfriend back home, Linda (Meryl Street), begins to fall in love with Michael, but Michael soon remembers his promise to Nicky ("If I don't make it back don't leave me over there") and travels over 2,000 miles back into the middle of his own personal hell to find and rescue his best friend. It's hard for him to understand why Nicky doesn't recognize him when he finally tracks him down. "It's me, Mike." "Mike who?"
Causing mass controversy upon its release because of its alleged "racist" content regarding the Vietnamese, a crowd of Vietnam veterans gathered around outside the Oscars ceremony and caused riots as well, claiming that the film was "not accurate" and somehow insulting to the veterans of the war.
However as many film historians, authors and critics have already pointed out, the film is never meant to be a 100% accurate depiction of the events in Vietnam. It is not really a Vietnam War picture at all. Instead, it is a focus on the aftermath of war, and how damaging it can be, both physically and mentally, to its participants. Because of the era that "The Deer Hunter" was released in, Vietnam was a recent event, the focus of the nation, and is therefore used as a more convenient -- and relative -- backdrop (much like "Apocalypse Now"). Unlike "Platoon" this is not a movie relating specifically to the Vietnam War, in fact less than a half an hour is devoted to the war scenes. It is a character study, and accusations of racism -- although perhaps justified to some extent -- are hardly convincing as the film itself is not concerned with bashing the participants of the war as it is the war itself.
It is the film's necessary setup that is often called long and boring and, ironically, unnecessary, but this is essentially where the nature of each character is examined for the audience. To launch directly into the war sequences would be sloppy, and we would have a harder time caring for the characters. Instead, we are given scenes with weddings, discussions, and hunting trips -- normal events. Then, the end, a somber reflection upon the past, chronicles the aftermath of the damaging events in the lives of Michael, Steven, Nicky and their loved ones. Michael has a hard time adapting back to his normal life. It would be hard for anyone, after experiencing such damaging events and images.
De Niro made a few post-Vietnam films during the '70s and '80s, the most famous being "Taxi Driver," in which Travis Bickle was totally unable to find his way in life again after the war and resorted to violence in order to justify his existence and release his anger. "The Deer Hunter" is similar in approach but reveals more background; this would be a suitable prequel of sorts if the names had been changed.
Over the years "The Deer Hunter" has surprisingly gained a fairly bad reputation -- most of which stems back to the controversy surroundings its release and protested accolades. Director Michael Cimino's follow-up ("Heaven's Gate") was an enormous flop, bankrupting United Artists, and he had a hard time finding work afterwards. His first feature film, "Thunderbolt and Lightfoot," which starred Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges, was a buddy road movie that was also a sign of things to come in Cimino' later features, most notably the process of male bonding, which is a huge primal element in this project. Cimino was an extremely talented and visionary director, and it's a shame that the ambition of "Heaven's Gate" cost him his career.
And furthermore, despite the negativity surrounding "The Deer Hunter," it is still one of the finest works of American cinema, a touching, poignant and ultimately depressing film that asks us if the effects of war extend past the physical and into the realm of human mentality. Yes, I think they do.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Most young people today need to learn that Robert De Niro was not just the person in Meet the Parents or The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, but he starred in films like The Deer Hunter, which got him to where he is today. Not only is he a great actor, he always picks good films to act in. And with a strong supporting cast, also, you can't really go wrong with The Deer Hunter. Michael (De Niro), Nick (Christopher Walken), and Steven (John Savage) sign up to go to Vietnam. They leave after a farewell party/wedding party for Stanley and Angela (Rutanya Alda). Once in the midst of the war, they are forced into playing Russian Roulette and eventually they escape, but none of them can forget the experiences from the war. It's sad to see that Michael Cimino fade from view, because his direction here is really memorable and it's what holds the film together. There's about 70 minutes in the beginning of the film that has nothing to do with the rest of the film, but it gets us to know these three main characters, and it seems like you wouldn't care if they even went to Vietnam, because you certainly were intrigued by these three people. And once they're in the perils of war, you feel enough for these three basic people to get through the war. The Russian Roulette scenes are harrowing, even when it's a complete stranger who has the gun to their head. I read that to get the tension on set, a live bullet was put into the gun, but it was checked to make sure that it wasn't the one about to be shot. And, since you've known these people for 90 minutes already, you obviously didn't want them to die, making them all the more nervous. The Deer Hunter is quite unlike another great Vietnam film, Full Metal Jacket. While FMJ just showed the immediate results, this movie showed the results immediately and in the future, back at home. This helped make everything seem more realistic, which it was. For each of the three main characters, the war has changed them greatly, and none for the better. De Niro is great, but the stand out here is Walken, who accurately takes his role and makes it into something memorable. Thankfully, he won best supporting actor. Meryl Streep was nominated as a supporting character, deservedly. However, this movie is not all about the acting, it's about the feeling you get. As one character says, 'I don't know how I feel.' That's exactly how you'll feel after seeing this tour-de-force. My rating: 10/10 Rated R for strong language and violence.
I've now seen this film three times with a decade or more between viewings,
and every time I see it I come away feeling that movies can't get any better
than this. People always comment on the Viet Nam scenes, and it's true that
they are as powerful and intense as any war scenes ever filmed. The
Russian-roulette betting game, in both its up-river and Saigon venues, may
be the most riveting, shattering plot device ever invented, as measured by
the pounding of the heart.
But it's the 'home front' scenes that stick with me through the years. I think all the steel town scenes are nearly perfect, untoppable. And that very much includes the Eastern Orthodox wedding and its sequel. When anyone tells me they were bored I just shake my head. There's no arguing with short and shallow attention spans. You're either capable of appreciating art or you're not.
I do have a quibble or two. The deer-hunting scenes looked like nowhere I've ever seen in Pennsylvania, or anywhere else East of the Rockies. I think Cimino deliberately picked an ethereal location above the clouds as a contrast to the steel town. When John Cazale and the others get loaded and act like jerks it jars on Michael, because they have brought the stupid distractions of ordinary life to an extraordinary place. This would matter less if the 'genius loci' were not so strongly present in the other home front scenes. I wish he had used the soft, green forested hills of Pennsylvania for the hunting.
And some of the dialogue--Meryl Streep's in particular--wouldn't work on the page, and only first-rate acting by an inspired ensemble--has there ever been a better cast of young actors?--pulls it off. But these are forgivable errors in one of the finest films ever made.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Outstanding and haunting Best Picture winner of 1978 that still packs a punch nearly 25 years later. Robert DeNiro (Oscar-nominated), Christopher Walken (Oscar-winning for Best Supporting Actor) and John Savage are on their way to fight for their country in Vietnam. The three are in for a rude awakening from their simple lives in a small steel town in Pennsylvania. The terrors of Vietnam will change all. DeNiro, an avid deer hunter, cannot stand to even shoot a gun after he returns. Savage loses his legs and is too ashamed and scared to return home to his new wife and friends. Walken has lost it mentally and stays in Vietnam and develops the taste for Russian roulette. The movie is a trial to sit through in many ways, but it is also an important film that was the first commentary on the topic of Vietnam. Meryl Streep also received her first of a record 12 Oscar nominations as Walken's love interest. John Cazale was deathly ill during the making of the movie and died shortly after the film was completed of terminal cancer. Michael Cimino's amazing Oscar-nominated screenplay and out-of-this-world Oscar-winning direction are right on key. "The Deer Hunter" is important film-making that has a strong message about life, death and love. It is a movie that should be experienced by everyone at least once. 5 stars out of 5.
I cannot fathom the absolute horror that war brings to a persons life, but never has a film depicted it more harrowing than The Deerhunter. At 182 minutes, it seemed to fly by, leaving me wanting more and wishing this would not end. all facets are explored, all people's emotions are laid bare, not just the combatants. If we obviously did not know better, one would have to say this was a British film, as it has all the best elements that British movie making displays. i can eulogise for hundreds of lines, but this really is the ONLY American movie i can think of (others? apart from taxi driver) that is RAW. A strange word i know but the movie oozes a raw edge to it. Immense performances from all concerned, and if i had to say, i believe i have not seen Christopher Walken in a better role. One of the very few films i deservedly give 10/10. A must for any collection and a stunning example of every aspect of film making coming together, albeit for a sombre depiction of life.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Those other negative comments that suggest that maybe this movie was good when it came out, but hasn't aged well, are dead wrong! I waited in line to see it on Opening Night in 1978. As a Vietnam veteran and a huge DeNiro fan, I was really looking forward to the first big movie about Nam. And it was as hideous, boring, exploitive, senseless, and unrealistic that night as it is now! They're going to Nam the next day?!? Without any kind of basic training or anything? The Walken character survives how many years playing Russian roulette?? How does DeNiro get away with that beard in Special Forces? I knew many soldiers from Western Pennsylvania steel mills, but not one with Walken's blow-dried hair-do that not even New York dancers were wearing till the late '70s! Okay, so let's suspend disbelief and not criticize its lack of anything vaguely realistic. In that case, we are left with a boring, long, boring, disjointed, boring, meaningless, exploitive piece of crap that had nothing whatever to do with the Vietnam War. And did I mention boring? For those who want a movie about the Vietnam War, I recommend Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, Platoon, and a wonderful almost-unknown Burt Lancaster movie called Go Tell The Spartans that also came out in '78. Almost every Vietnam vet I know liked Apocalypse Now -- almost all thought The Deer Hunter was crap. And Cimino's later career supplies ample evidence for that point of view!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The first hour of this movie concerns a bunch of guys at a wedding
reception. They spend their time drinking and not saying much, so we
don't know who they are. Hmmmmm. Eventually we learn that these guys
are going to 'fight for their country in Vietnam' (apparently without
joining the army first.) At this point, you'll really start to go
'hmmmm....' The guys, who work in Pennsylvania, leave the wedding
reception, still boxed out on beer, and travel (a 45 minute drive) to
the Canadian Rockies to hunt elk. Hmmmm.
Next, they show up in Vietnam. Apparently they made a special deal with the U.S. Army to serve in the same squad. Hmmmmm.
Next, they are all in a hut in the jungle playing Russian Roulette. I think they are being forced to by sinister villains, but I'm not sure. Hmmmmm.
Two of the guys are rescued, but one guy disappears, to pursue a career as world reigning Russian roulette champion. Seven or three or five years later, DeNiro goes back to Saigon to rescue him. Apparently the roulette champion had been lucky enough to last years playing this deadly game and made a fortune. Will his luck hold out? Hmmmmmm. Anyway, The last day the Americans are in Vietnam, and refugees are killing themselves to rush the last helicopter at the embassy, DeNiro shows up on a commercial flight, casually strolling through the Saigon airport. Hmmmmm.
I think they call it suspension of disbelief. Hmmmmmm.
Of the first two American films about the Vietnam war with a priceless
artistic weight, "the Deer Hunter" wins hands down over "Apocalypse
Now" (1979) although Francis Ford Coppola's work is very potent too.
But would it be judicious to pigeonhole Michael Cimino's work in the category of the war movie? Unlike Coppola's visual nightmare, only the central part takes place in Vietnam and the filmmaker barely shoots one fight sequence before Mike (Robert De Niro), Nick (Christopher Walken) and Stevie (John Savage) are prisoners of the enemy and are forced to play Russian roulette in the notorious unbearable scene. Actually "the Deer Hunter" is a film straddling two movie genres: the war movie and the social drama. Rather than shooting a political film, Cimino chose to represent us the deadly impact this nightmarish war had on an American community whose hopes and values disappeared.
Dividing his work in three parts: before, during, after and thanks to symbolical images, scenes or even eloquent details, Cimino used and honed his own cinematographic language to set out his stalls and the result can only command respect and admiration. Each sequence could be separately taken and carefully studied like the representation of the humdrum but reassuring living standards of the blue-collars with their everyday rituals (Cimino's obsession with rites and customs) revolving around factory, bar, friends and hunting (you have to admire the startling contrast between the dirty little town and the gorgeous, wild landscapes). Archetypal sequences that epitomize life and it reaches its height in the famous, unusually long wedding sequence. Perhaps Cimino wanted to stretch this sequence to make his characters take advantage of this rapture moment. But even during this state of bliss that lives inside them, the imminent tragedy ominously lurks: Mike and Nick gently laugh at an officer who remains dumb and when Stevie and his wife have to drink in a dish, some drops fall on her wedding dress. This sequence also epitomizes the polar opposite to the sequence of the Russian roulette in which death is just around the corner. After the war when Mike comes back to the small town, he's completely altered. Before, a devotee of deer hunting; after his traumatizing experience, he can't kill one. He's unable to talk about about what he went through and for his sidekicks, the experience of a war like this one is incomprehensible. Cimino eschews classical, predictable storytelling and hasn't recourse to psychological study. Nearly everything occurs in gestures and looks while the suggested has a meaty part in the dialogs. Besides, during the whole movie the topic of the war is barely mentioned by the characters. A lyrical whiff blows on the film, dovetailed by Cimino's astounding directing.
Cimino was consumed with ambition and went at it hammer and tongs to get his crew completely involved in his project. He was hard on his actors (Robert De Niro has often said that "the Deer Hunter" was his most grueling role to date) and was obsessed with absolute control. But the efforts weren't vain at all and gave a heartfelt, invaluable yardstick in war movie, even American cinema which reached the streets when America rose from its ruins. It was also the beginning of the end for Cimino, a filmmaker ahead of his time and on the fringe of cinematographic trends.
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