Veteran’s Week film review: The Deer Hunter (1978)

The Deer Hunter
♦ IMDB TOP 250 Film ♦

Genre: drama/war

Cast:  Robert De Niro (Michael), Christopher Walken (Nick), John Savage (Steven), Merryl Streep (Linda)

Writers: Michael Cimino, Deric Washburn, Louis Garfinkle, Quinn Redeker

Director: Michael Cimino

It seems appropriate to post a review of the powerful “The Deer Hunter” in a week like this one, when the United States celebrates its veterans 95 years after the end of WWI and 41 years after the end of armed involvement in Vietnam.
In 1978, a mere six years after combat in Vietnam ceased, director Michael Cimino crafted a film that attempted to explore the psychological damage it caused on the survivors.

A film like The Deer Hunter can be considered as a small consolation to the tragedy, a film that raises the awareness about the impact of the war in an artful manner, shining the spotlight not only on the physical disappearance of thousands of soldiers, but on the many more whose survival meant the continuation of their suffering.

The film is divided into three acts. First we are introduced to a group of characters in the most jovial and happy of circumstances (a Russian orthodox wedding), only to immediately follow with the harrowing devastation of war. The closing act is probably the most difficult to watch as the film returns to America to focus on the battered souls who could not find comfort in family or friends upon their return.

The lead role is shared by three actors, all of which deliver unforgettable performances. The three belong to the core group of friends we are introduced to at the beginning of the film. Robert De Niro commands the larger share of the screen time as Michael. Before the war, Michael is shown as the man’s man who, despite his commanding personality, can’t seem to find ways to seduce the woman he’s always loved, played by none other than Merryl Streep. Unsurprisingly, Michael is also the only of the three who looks to be somewhat capable to leave the horror behind if only his friends had been able to be as strong and fortunate as he was. The performance is vintage De Niro, played with the kind of extraordinary intensity and fragility that is the staple of some of his best work.

Steven and Nick are the other two major characters, played by John Savage and Christopher Walken respectively. The first delivers a surprisingly heartbreaking performance, portraying a man whose agony and sadness can almost be touched. The latter is simply astounding, the true face of tragedy. Nick is the broken man who never truly recovered from facing death in the eye. He is the embodiment of a lost generation, a soldier who could not face the prospect of going back to a hero’s welcome. It is Walken at his very best, before his art succumbed to the many quirks that began to plague his acting style, and would later turn him into a comedy actor almost exclusively.

Sadly, The Deer Hunter loses some of its potency due to some strange editing, overlong sequences and a first act that lacks the imagination and power of the rest of the film. Still, one of the best war films you can hope to watch.

“There was never a good war, or a bad peace” – Benjamin Franklin

4/5

The Deer Hunter 2

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3 thoughts on “Veteran’s Week film review: The Deer Hunter (1978)

  1. An incredible film this one. I saw it at the movies when it first came out and was gobsmacked and worldless for some time! The impact of those Russian Roulette scenes were just enormous. The cast…….phenomonal:
    Robert De Niro – Could not put a foot wrong at this particular time of his career. An outstanding performance, so soft at times and then stunningly brutal;
    Meryl Streep – A beautiful performance! When she shed a tear, the audience shed one with her;
    John Savage – Heartbreaking;
    John Cazale – An enormous lost talent;
    and
    Christopher Walken – What Mr. Walken does here, mostly without speaking, is act. Even when he’s dead and buried at the end of the film, he is still there with all of them. Mr Walken is an ACTOR of the highest order. If Americans had knighthoods for the arts, he would be Sir Christopher Walken!

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