Friday, 16 May 2014

The Deer Hunter (1978) 70's Marathon 20#

Directed by: Michael Cimino
Drama, War
178 Minutes

It was challenging to recuperate my feelings after watching this film. I was left speechless when the credits came on. The journey, the story, the people; I found it extremely moving and heart-wrenching at times. The script is brilliant, and Christopher Walken, Robert De Niro, Robert Savage, Meryl Streep and John Savage all give mesmerising performance filling the screen with emotional authenticity. This great Vietnam War-period film went on to win 5 Oscars including Best Director and Picture.

The film initially has three acts. The first act we are introduced to all the characters, when a wedding is about to take place between two characters. We are introduced to Michael (De Niro), Nick (Walken) and Steven (Savage), three good friends who are soon to go off to Vietnam. We learn something about their relationship and characters- especially between Michael and Nick, in one of the most powerful friendships on screen as Michael tells Nick “I wouldn’t go hunting with anyone else”. They soon go on a hunting trip, which marks their last before the second act kicks in.
So much has been exhaustively written about the Russian roulette scene in the film, and it is any wonder. It has been argued and criticised that games of Russian Roulette ever took place during the Vietnam War (causing some outrage at the time), but I still feel it works as the center of the film. Unflinchingly, your attention is brought right into the gritty tension, and every single second will have you on edge. Every time someone lifts the gun and puts it to their head- you hold your breath hoping he gun does not fire. It soon becomes a symbolic theme in the film, and really shows just how much it changed the sanity of the three characters. Roger Ebert called this a “symbol of the film” which couldn’t be truer. 
The film does not give as much focus on the war as I thought it would, and I loved it for it. This is not just a film about war; it is about these three characters journeys. This is but a film representation of war, and it is hard to believe it can only be worse than imagined in any book, article or film. Seeing how Michael, Nick and Steven are affected by the war shows the impact it had on so many lives.

Not only are the veterans affected, but their friends and family. Meryl Streep plays Linda, Mike’s boyfriend, and only Streep could pull off the timid, but heartfelt performance. Her heart is breaking from knowing Michael is off to war, and Streep’s teary eyes are hard not to sympathise with.

I truly commend the script from Michael Cimino (also director) and Deric Washburn. The dialogue was powerful and the film’s overall structure was great.  It goes without mentioning how great the on-location filming is with the Vietnam-set scenes that give the film a true authenticity. Better yet, in a scene with Walken, he is slapped without warning and his reaction is genuine. De Niro and Savage also performed their own stunts including dropping off a helicopter into a river from 30 feet. If that is not acting dedication then I don’t know what is.

I am glad to have finally seen this film and it done something few films do to me; it left me breathless as I watched the credits roll up as I recovered myself. The beginning of the credits shows us the ‘main’ characters of the film, happy and smiling which is a somewhat relief and tries to leave on a happier note that these people where once happy and lived a joyous existence with one another. It is just a tragedy that their experience changed everything.


I love this moment in the film.


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