The tragedy of The Deer Hunter is a full-blown, mind-shattering experience that will leave you shocked for a long time. I was shocked and traumatized by this film, and totally blown away by it. Itís immense power left me in total grief and pity for the characters in the film, however, that power is what makes this film a once-in-a-lifetime experience. A controversial, but powerful masterpiece in modern cinema, the movie was to be director Michael Ciminoís peak, and go on to win 5 academy awards, for Best Director, Picture, Screenplay, and Supporting Actor for Christopher Walkenís absorbing performance. This film is a total must, but you better be prepared for the shock.The film consists of three parts: The life, the war, and the aftermath.
"A Nerve-Shattering Experience"
The life: In the small town of Clairton, Pennsylvania, we meet the main characters of the film, a group of 6 friends consisting of Michael (Robert De Niro), Nick (Walken), Steven (John Savage), Stan (John Cazale), John (George Dzundza) and Axel (Chuck Aspergren), all workers Ėexcept JohnĖ at a blast furnace factory, and from Russian ethnicity. Michael, Nick, and Steve have volunteered for the Vietnam War, but before, they are to celebrate life with Stevenís wedding (grandiosely staged, and lots of fun), and the first deer-hunting trip in the cool grounds of the Alleghenies Mountains. For Michael, deer hunting is a religious ritual, the perfect killing, and the search for the holy right of killing in one single shot. Nick follows him on this, while the rest are unskilled and often irritate Michael, especially Stan. After the hunting, the celebration brings the ritual into a natural full circle.
The War: None of the three expected the horrifying disaster that was to hit and change their lives forever. In just their first tour, they are greeted with the explosions and firefights that form the lethal cauldron of Vietnam. The three friends are captured and imprisoned in a POW camp, and there, their worst nightmares come true, and so do ours as weíre introduced to the brutal game of the Russian roulette. Logically, the three, after a death-defying struggle, manage to escape the camp and are rescued, but get separated in the effort. Steven gets seriously injured, and Michael stays with him to protect him, but later they separate, while Nick is taken to the hospital.
The aftermath: Their lives are scarred. Steveís injuries, Nickís zombie ness, and deep submerge into the Russian roulette game, and Michaelís moody and repulsive attitude with his friends and his sudden relationship with Nickís girlfriend Linda (Meryl Streep), will lead into a clash that will change their friendship forever.
Whatís interesting about the movie is itís unusual style of filmmaking, which includes a sometimes-uneven storyline, loose editing, unusual camera shots and length, and makes the final product raw, bold and brassy. Still, the film never looses any of its power, and tackles on the many subjects of patriotism and manhood and how theyíre destroyed by the cruelty of war without forgiveness. A little flaw is that it tries to deal with several subjects, and despite achieving the most important ones; it leaves many of them behind in thin air. These unfortunately press the film into being at times indulgent and pretentious. It tries to deal with the issues of the Vietnam War, and itís criticized for that, since it portrays the Vietnamese as one-sided and sadistic people. Historically inaccurate, yes, but one can tell closely enough, that Cimino is trying to aim sadist people that just live for killing each other. There will always be good people and bad people. Vietnam isnít covered with much detail, since the film concentrates on our friends and places the Vietnam War in the background, but again the film makes the mistake of forcing the issue with the political side of the War, which pushes the film to be defined as a war movie. It never really achieves that, and again another subject is left in the air, hence adding the pretentiousness.
But still despite that, the film isnít practically affected by these flaws and makes its controversy explode in the now-famous sequence Russian roulette scene, which is one of the most brutal scenes ever to be put on film. At first it isnít noticed, but the roulette scenes tend to agree with the deer hunting. Michael sees deer hunting as a religious philosophy of a perfect kill with one shot, while the Russian roulette is played as a ritual of a perfect kill, a perfect kill of oneís conscience (Notice the metaphor of deer-hunting?). The roulette scenes at times may border on the extreme, but still the emotional effects hit on the mark, and make your wonder about things in your life, about friendship, about your wits, and how far can you take them, and your own emotions. Itís just fucking powerful.
The performances are flawless. Robert De Niro is perfect as Michael, and is known to be his favorite role, and you can tell, since he adds a special charisma to itís character. Walken is superb and so is Meryl Streep as Linda. The rest of the supporting cast is excellent, sadly it was to be John Cazaleís last film, since he would die later of bone cancer. Michael Ciminoís direction is spellbinding and hits it on the spot. He had lots of talent, too bad his career was to be ruined by his next project, Heavens Gate, but thatís another story.In the end, this film is raw, and unusual, but still, itís pretty much powerful stuff, and deserves a casual, but prepared view, and unquestionably ranks amongst the greatest films of all time. Be prepared to be challenged emotionally by this film, since it is one hell of a ride, and an experience that you wont forget. See it. 5-5
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originally posted: 01/17/02 00:40:39