Anthony's Film Review
The Deer Hunter (1978)
The moving story of three friends and how war can tear their lives apart...
Here is a film that won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1979 along with four others, including the Best Supporting Actor award for Christopher Walken. It is also a war movie that does not follow the typical war epic formula. It does not have any gigantic battle scenes. It does not rely on a large body count to break our hearts. Instead, it makes us cry with a story of friendship and the lives that are changed by one of the most unpopular wars in history.
Robert De Niro, John Savage, and Christopher Walken respectively play the roles of Michael, Steven, and Nick. They are good friends working as steel workers in Clairton, Pennsylvania. They like to hang out at the pool hall after work. In addition, their lives are sparked with relationships. Nick is dating Linda and Steven is getting married. The first hour of the film is about the happiness in their lives, from the wedding ceremony to the male bonding on a deer-hunting trip. The only sign of upcoming war scenes is the mention that the wedding also serves as a goodbye ceremony for the three friends.
Then we go straight into act two. Right after a bar scene is a combat scene in the middle of the Vietnam War without any smooth transitions. This is to show how suddenly war can throw ordinary people celebrating the joys of life into a hellhole where survival is the only concern. In the film's famous scene, the three buddies are captured by the Viet Cong, who subject them to play Russian roulette until they successfully shoot themselves. Miraculously, the three make it out alive, but not without the trauma from this psychological torture.
The real emotion comes during the final third of the movie when the war is over. Michael returns home, but without his friends by his side. He is too sad to even attend his welcome-back party and instead comes back just as the party guests leave. What is more saddening are the fates of Steven and Nick. Michael visits a VA hospital to find Steve's legs decapitated. As for Nick, he is still in Vietnam and barely remembers who he once was. Losing sense of oneself, as we soon see, can be a more tragic outcome than losing one's legs.
All of this spans a running time of three hours. Director Michael Cimino does this to really make the events sink into our hearts. My only complaint is that the movie is that long. I think a story like this could still be effectively told in, let's say, two and a half hours. But that's OK. I did enjoy the film and how well the story works on a fairly deep level. The cast, including Meryl Streep and John Cazale before he passed away from cancer, all give wonderful performances. It's a shame that this film was Michael Cimino's one true success since he went on to produce the box-office failure Heaven's Gate and never brought his career back since. Still, I'm sure he, and everyone else, considers The Deer Hunter as his one true masterpiece.
For more information about The Deer Hunter, visit the Internet Movie Database.