The Deer Hunter (1978)

 

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The Deer Hunter depicts the impact of the Vietnam war on on the lives of people in an industrial town.

The only things that I have to say about The Deer Hunter is: What a movie! I was quite scared of watching this one since I’m not a fan of war films in general, if you remember, but at the end of the day there’s no denying this film is pure brilliance. Fantastic. Actually, the brilliance of war films is the primary reason why I don’t like to watch them – they just make me feel damn depressed. The same can be said here, but it would be foolish of me to deny that I was blown away by this one. Never have I seen such an emotionally powerful film in a while, and I really think this one is going to stay with me for a while, pretty much like other classics like The Godfather and Schindler’s List.

The best aspect of The Deer Hunter is easily the direction by Michael Cimino. There’s just so much detail in the whole movie that makes it so special, from the cinematography, to the three-dimensional characters, to the story – everything is sufficiently developed. Furthermore, the editing is very well done, and despite the 3 hour runtime, the film doesn’t drag. Actually, approximately one hour is dedicated to each portion of the story, the first being before the war, the second being in Vietnam and the third being about the aftermath of the war. I can understand where some of the comments about the film being boring is coming from, because the first hour is very slow, but I didn’t mind at all. It introduced the characters to us, and in a way the wedding was the final celebration before the three characters go to Vietnam. I thought it was magnificently done; sure, the dance sequence did feel like forever but you can always sense that beneath the happiness and celebrations, there is this underlying tension, anxiety and sadness among the characters, especially through Nick (Christopher Walken), the most sensitive of the lot. The sense of foreboding doom was palpable throughout, despite the laughter and goofing around. The second portion is the one that probably got Cimino the Oscar; the iconic russian roulette scene is probably scarier than any horror films that I’ve seen in my entire life. The tension, the suspense and the evident loss of humanity among the “players” just make the entire sequence nerve-wracking and frightening. Of course, the inaccuracy of the part has often been criticised but its message is still as relevant as ever. War dehumanizes people, and even if you escape unscathed, the psychological scars will always remain. You don’t see any of the actual battle scenes, but I feel that the russian roulette itself really shows how one’s survivor in the war is still ultimately a game of chance. It was also effectively used to depict the psychological effect the war has on soldiers, especially when you see Walken’s character is still “stuck” in the game.  

Emotionally powerful would be the best way to describe this whole film. Yes, these two words have been used to described many films but you really have to see the movie for yourself to understand what I mean. It’s just one of the most saddening films I’ve ever watched, maybe not on Schindler’s List level, but enough to make me feel like wrapping myself in a blanket and thanking God for how blessed I am to not be a part of that history. 

The actors are all top-notch. Robert De Niro was at his prime as an actor (and looks) during this era, and his performance is just fantastic. I cannot describe how intense his entire performance is, and surprisingly enough, his work is actually more subtle than you think. He appears to be the most silent and strongest of the entire group, and yet you can really see through his eyes how the whole thing has scarred him. A lot of his emotional scenes are fantastically handled as well, especially the final one when he is trying to reconnect with Nick. The one that will really stay with you is Christopher Walken’s Nick. Right from the start you can see that he is the most quiet and introspective of the bunch, and to see his subsequent descend into madness and guilt is just…super depressing, albeit brilliantly. The performance is just amazing, one of the most deserving supporting actor winners I’ve seen in a while.  Meryl Streep was really great in her tiny part as well, giving a moving and beautiful performance that was rewarded with her first Oscar nomination. To be honest, I didn’t really love her performance as much as people did because the part is a bit thin, and she does get overshadowed by the film at times. She was waaaaaaay (like MILES) more deserving than Dyan Cannon though, in my opinion. 

At the end of the day, The Deer Hunter is simply one of the best films that I’ve watched so far. Maybe you can argue that the russian roulette metaphor is manipulative trick, but I guess you can say that I was “manipulated” into buying its message. A masterpiece. 5/5. 

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