By George Nethercott (UK)
Directed by Michael Cimino, The Deer Hunter remains one of the most pivotal Vietnam War films ever made. With an all killer no filler cast (Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, and Meryl Streep), The Deer Hunter tells the story of a small-based community in Pennsylvania who experience the harrowing effects of the Vietnam War. Three friends (Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, and John Savage) decide to make their last hunting trip before they go off to fight in Vietnam. The film is made up of three acts – before, during, and after. It is an in-depth examination of how each characters relationships change. The results are both powerful and moving.
When it comes to a good performance, The Deer Hunter, raises the bar consistently throughout the film. The entire cast has their own quality to their character. By the end of the first act you become part of this community and begin to love everyone in it. Cimino creates a sense of realism where I honestly believed these were real lives. Once the transitions in tone occur and when characters become haunted by the war – you become emotionally engaged right to the very end. Upon my first viewing, there was nothing but pure silence as the credits rolled. Perhaps the most important and famous sequence is the Russian roulette. The performances here by De Niro, Walken, and Savage are some of the best acting ever put to screen. It is horrific. Cimino shows that a typical battle scene is not needed to show the brutality of war. He places three men in one room who are forced to play Russian roulette. It is simple but effective. Meryl Streep’s performance is never unnoticeable. She really delivers when it comes to conveying how loneliness can consume someone.
The score to The Deer Hunter is beautiful. Stanley Myers’ brings a haunting but beautiful score with “Cavatina” – an acoustic piece which buries into your memory right from the start. It has a sense of ambience – particularly during the hunting sequence. It is then cut short when the deer is shot – Cimino brings excellent direction with this foreshadowing. It is all the more effective with Myers’ score. Foreshadowing is a big element in the first act. Cimino uses this wisely – to prepare the audience for what’s to come. These subtle hints add a whole other sense of tension and unease to the film.
Despite my personal love for The Deer Hunter, this film is not one you can just casually watch. You have to be in the right mood in order to enjoy the film for what it is. You need to focus and take everything from it. The film’s runtime is just over three hours long – which can make finding time difficult. However, The Deer Hunter has some many qualities too it which need to be experienced at least once. It has a powerful message which needs to be understood. The Deer Hunter is a film which will stay relevant for many years to come.