The Deer Hunter (1978)

Three friends from Pennsylvania lives are changed when they are deployed to Vietnam. After their service life changes for each of them.

Director: Michael Cimino

Cast: Robert DeNiro, Christopher Walken, John Savage, Meryl Streep, John Cazale, George Dzundza, Pierre Segui

MPAA Rating: R for intense moments, language

Fun Fact: When John Savage’s character is thrown in the river cage, he calls out to Michael which was Robert DeNiro’s character’s name. Savage was actually calling out to the director because there were rats in that area of the river and Savage was scared of rats. The film makers liked the realism and decided to keep it in.

I have a little history with The Deer Hunter as it is one of my Dad’s favorite movies. I could not tell you how many times he has seen it and tried to convince me to watch it over the years. I tried watching it when I was a kid but had little interest in it and did not really get it as you would say. Over the years my Dad had kept telling me I should give it another shot so I caved in when I got Peacock and noticed it was on the app with the free version.

At a little over three hours in length, The Deer Hunter is an epic tale about the Vietnam War. In fact, it was one of the first films to touch on the subject of the war and to this day it is still a touchy subject. With the war still fresh in the minds of America, a movie about it was a big deal to have because who knows what the reception would be like. With all of that we get an intense thrill ride that is well paced that flows nicely. It does not feel like a three-hour movie as there is something always going on that will keep you invested. For example, the beginning there is a wedding scene and it goes on for a good while. It clocks in at fifty-two minutes which is justified due to it being excellently written setup. It feels like you are there celebrating with the characters and getting to know them. It is a feel-good moment until…

We realize these friends have to go to Vietnam. We get a nicely shot battle scene that brings up the intensity. That is short until we get the famous Russian Roulette scene. This scene is the most twenty minutes plus I have ever seen in a film. I was on the edge of my seat just in awe how it was filmed and like I stated in the Fun Fact with realism peppered in. Robert DeNiro brings it in this scene as he is in total survival mode. It is a matter of life and death and you want to see these characters get out of this situation. Christopher Walken and John Savage are both in this scene as well and they show amazing emotion in this life and death game. After this scene we get to see them go their sperate ways and it hits home. Military personal that came back from the war came home to a more negative reception. We see what these characters go through and we feel for them. They wish life can go back to normal, but it is forever changed.

The acting in the film is superb as director Michael Cimino does an amazing job with the direction of these performances. This is my favorite Robert DeNiro performance. Originally the role was supposed to go to Roy Scheider, but Scheider backed out and went on to work on Jaws 2. Now looking back, I cannot see Scheider in this role because DeNiro was flat out fantastic. DeNiro has said that this was the most physical role that he has done in his career and it shows. Christopher Walken won an Academy Award for Supporting Actor and he deserved it. Walken’s character is the one that has the worst of the mental breakdowns. What happens to his character will move you. John Savage also is on par with DeNiro and Walken. Savage’s character has quite a bit happen to him and it makes you feel for him as well at what happens to him. The great Meryl Streep dials in a fine performance and while it would have been nice for her to have a bit more screen time, her presence is justified with the amount of time she has.

Technical wise we have fantastic music that heightens the emotion. It fits right with the scenes. The music in the wedding scene is bright and happy as it should be. We also get popular music from that time era when the characters are just hanging out just like you would do with your friends. Some effective areas that do not rely on music are the Russian Roulette scenes. The cinematography is flat out fantastic as well. Once again, the camera work on the Russian Roulette scenes bring the tension and horror that is going on. It feels claustrophobic and frightening while you are on the edge of your seat hoping the characters get out of this situation. My favorite piece of camera work was when a couple of characters are trying to escape via helicopter. The way it was shot brought out my fear of heights.

Overall, The Deer Hunter is one emotional and thrilling epic that shows us the horrors of war and its effects on people. Director Michael Cimino gives us a physical and real film that is pushed by its acting. The whole cast brings more than its a-game and it shows. If you are not moved by the end of the film, I would suggest you view it again in case you missed something. To me as a massive Robert DeNiro fan this is my favorite performance of his and that is saying something. It is a shame that he did not win his nomination for Best Actor at the Oscars. The pacing flows nicely as it does not feel like a three-hour picture. This film won five Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director, and Walken’s supporting actor nod. It deserved every win and I would highly recommend that you see this picture. While it is not your typical Vietnam War film, it is essential viewing due to the character development. It shows us the characters journey and the emotional aspects of the war and the person who was deployed to it. The film deserved all of the awards that it won and is movie making perfection.

Verdict: Hit

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