The Deer Hunter
Vietnam in three Acts. Act I: 1968. Innocence. A wedding among a tight-knit Russian-American steeltown community in Pennsylvania. Six friends, three of whom have volunteered to fight. Act II: 1970. The war. Mike (Robert De Niro), Nick (Christopher Walken) and Stevie (John Savage) are taken prisoner and tortured. Act III: 1975. The fall-out…
Even in the 70s, there was nothing to prepare you for the immersive first half of The Deer Hunter: in particular a wedding party that runs nearly an hour and cements everything we need to feel for its Pennsylvania millworkers going off to war. The film celebrates working class bonds through atmosphere, ceremony, ritual – time – at the expense of dramatic incident… That comes later, and it’s more problematic and contrived, but inarguably very powerful.
This was the first Hollywood film to acknowledge that Vietnam had become a national nightmare. Cimino dug into a central trauma in contemporary American lives and would be rewarded with carte blanche to make Heaven’s Gate (1980) – a much maligned, flawed masterpiece which essentially marked the end of the decade when filmmakers had the power in Hollywood.
An astonishing piece of work, an uneasy mixture of violent pulp and grandiosity, with an enraptured view of common life — poetry of the commonplace.
Pauline Kael, The New Yorker
The Deer Hunter, as its title suggests, goes back to the novels of Fenimore Cooper and his taciturn frontier heroes, and comes up to the present through the psychologically wounded, war-weary protagonists of Hemingway’s stories and novels who sought solace in shooting and fishing. It is about the effects of war on people who have been drawn into the conflict for romance, patriotism, social solidarity or to test their manhood. A universal story, in fact. This superbly acted film is a blue collar War and Peace that does not patronize the inarticulate.
Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, John Cazale, John Savage, Meryl Streep, George Dzundza
In English, Russian, Vietnamese, and French with English subtitles
Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Christopher Walken), Academy Awards 1979
Barry Spikings, Michael Deeley, Michael Cimino, John Peverall
Ron Hobbs, Kim Swados