By: Movie Snurb (A Toast) –
The Deer Hunter is not only one of the finest Vietnam War films ever made, but it’s one of the greatest war films ever made, and one of the greatest films in general ever made. It follows three friends, Michael (Robert De Niro), Nick (Christopher Walken), and Steve (John Savage) who enlist in the military to fight in Vietnam. The film has almost a three act structure- the first act is at Steven’s wedding, and here we get to learn about these friends and their average life in rural Pennsylvania. The second act is during Vietnam and their capture, being forced to play Russian roulette with each other. The last act is when Michael comes home and we get to see how the war affected not only the three friends but their family and friends back home. It’s a tense and emotionally wrought film that will stay with you forever.
Michael Cimino’s masterful direction and writing is what makes this film so emotionally impactful. This film can be considered an undertaking at just over 3 hours. However, if this film was shortened the film wouldn’t have the lasting impact it does. So many films will give you minimal backstory with one sentence and move on and when we reach the climax of the film it doesn’t matter, we don’t care about the character. The Deer Hunter gives around an hour of backstory, so when the climax of the film happens it tears your heart out of your chest and will never leave your mind. What makes this ending so powerful is the buildup. Not only the first act, but the second act as well. Every scene is building a foundation for the next scene, allowing the audience to truly care for these people as if we knew them in real life. This film should be taught in every film school to show how you build a story and characters that the audience will care about so your ending will be powerful and remembered.
The characters are also brought alive by the amazing performances by the entire cast. John Savage does a wonderful job as Steven; the good friend who always plays it safe and usually needs someone to follow, normally Michael. Robert De Niro is stellar as Michael; when I watch this film I want to strive to be a man like Michael. He’s tough, but a good friend to the ones he cares about. He’s a born leader and would always look out for the ones he cares about. I don’t think there’s ever been a better portrayal of pure hatred than De Niro’s scene when he is forced to play Russian roulette as a POW. The rollercoaster of emotions that he conveys in that scene could only be done by the best of actors and is why he is one of the greatest actors of all-time.
Christopher Walken gives a more understated performance as Nick, the friend who is always right by Michael’s side through thick and thin. He’s a gambler but always up for a good time. He was hit the hardest by the horrors of war, forcing Michael to go back to Vietnam during the fall to get Nick. Everything Nick is feeling after the war is conveyed through his facial expressions. It’s difficult to do, but Walken is a natural at it. All of this only makes his final scene have a greater impact. It’s not as showy as Robert De Niro, but it is just as good and easy to see why he won the Oscar for Supporting Actor.
The rest of the supporting cast is fantastic. Meryl Streep is brilliant as always in her role torn between two friends who love her and her having to deal with those emotions and problems. The late John Cazale as Stan is great. He is a jackass and annoying, but deep down cares for his friends and the ones he loves. It’s a shame Cazale was taken from us so soon because he was such a brilliant actor. He would’ve given some amazing performances.
The Deer Hunter is one of the greatest films ever made and is personally one of my favorite movies of all-time. It is a statement on war and the devastation it leaves not only on the environment, but on the soldiers who fight and their families at home. War is a nasty thing and everyone is affected by its terror. It boasts unforgettable performances and will stay with you. It’s a film everyone should see once in their life.
The Deer Hunter (1978) Drinking Game
Do a Shot: every time they’re drinking in the movie
Do a Shot: for every game of Russian roulette
Take a Drink: for the few moments of pure joy.
Finish you Beer: to calm you during the final scene.