The Deer Hunter (1978)

Michael Cimino
Plot: An in-depth examination of the way that the Vietnam war affects the lives of people in a small industrial town in the USA.

Awards: Won 5 Oscars - best
picture, director, sup. actor, film editing, sound. Nom. for 4 Oscars - lead actor, sup. actress, cinematography, org. screenplay.
Runtime: 182min

Rating: M18 for strong violence, profanity, nudity, and disturbing images.


Never has been the futility of war
been so metaphorically expressed than in the Russian roulette scenes of The Deer Hunter. Two men sitting opposite each other play a game of chance with a revolver with illegal bets involved. A neutral inserts a bullet into the chamber and spins the barrel. He hands the revolver to one of the players who then aims it to his head and squeezes the trigger.

Bang! And he blows his brains off. Click! And he heaves a sigh of relief. War is pointless, and so is the dehumanizing gam
e of Russian roulette. Director Michael Cimino recognizes this and builds an epic three-hour motion picture based on the fundamentals of this similarity.
The Deer Hunter won five Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director, and most of the time it would end up in every critic’s ‘Top 100 Films’ list. Made in 1978 and is one of the first films to openly exploit the Vietnam War as its subject matter, The Deer Hunter is often compared to future Vietnam movies such as Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, Oliver Stone’s Platoon, and Stanley Kubrick’s Full Meta
l Jacket. While these films show how the horrors of war affect the psyche of an individual, they have their own merits and flaws as well. Cimino’s film stars Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken in an Oscar-winning performance, and John Savage as Michael, Nick, and Steven respectively. The three close friends are factory workers who get drafted into Vietnam. Steven gets married days before their tour of duty, and the wedding celebrations are to be their final farewell party.

There are three major acts in the film: the wedding, the war in Vietnam, and the aftermath. The
first two acts while excellently choreographed and directed respectively, have major flaws that I feel can be eliminated with better editing (the Oscar for best editing is a joke!).
The elaborate wedding sequence reminds of The Godfather, and it is a crucial portion that devotes to character development and relations. We see Michael, Nick, and Steven as ordinary Americans in a typical suburb; they enjoy getting drunk, love deer hunting, and despite a few ruffles here and there, share a close bond with each other.

However, the first act is way too lengthy, seems never-ending, and is a drab to watch after twenty minutes. The transition to the second act is sudden but in a positively way. We ar
e plunged into the hellhole of Vietnam, along with the morbid fanfare of explosions and gunfights, and yes, the famous Russian roulette.
Michael, Nick, and Steven are reunited in Vietcong territory, captured and forced to play the roulette. The violence is uncompromising and at times, barely watchable. This second act has the same
pacing problem that plagued the first. Now, it is too short.

We are not with Michael and co. for a substantial amount of time in Vietnam before the scenery shifts back to America. Thus, how the war affects them physically and psychologically is not documented very well. In a thrilling aerial sequence involv
ing an attempt to rescue Michael and co. from a fast-flowing river via a chopper, they become separated again.
The third act is the best of the tri
o. The focus is on Michael who returns back home as a hero. However, he faces problems returning to a normal life, becoming more distant from friends and family. This is where The Deer Hunter triumphs. Wars tear people apart; the horrors linger on for the rest of their lives.

Cimino’s film is as relevant now as it is thirty years ago, depicting not so much the courage of soldiers who fought the Vietnam war, but the futility of it all. The last scene is a tearjerker, but strangely gives us renewed hope that we can always find solace and strength in one another. God Bless America!


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