Review of Michael Camino’s masterpiece about the effects of the Vietnam war on three best friends from Pennsylvania
By Carter Bagley
Michael Cimino is a filmmaker we could talk about for hours and his downward spiral is one that may go down in history. No matter what happened to him however no one could ever take away the masterpiece that is “The Deer Hunter” from him. When it was released in 1978 there was drama surrounding it including over-budgeting and Cimino being an extreme perfectionist and a huge pain in the ass to the studio, in the end though he no doubt delivered a perfect psychologically horrific war film and among the first to really go in depth on the Vietnam war. The film follows three best friends from a blue collar Pennsylvania town Mike (Robert De Niro), Steve (John Savage) and Nick (Christopher Walken) and they all have very distinct personalities. Mike is the confident, wise and quiet leader who keeps his senses better than his friends while Steve is sweet and loving and about to get married and Nick is reserved, thoughtful and charming. The film is really broken into three story structures where part 1 takes place prewar where they’re preparing for deployment and Steve gets married to his pregnant fiancee and Mike, Nick and other friends go on a final hunting trip before the three friends are sent into Vietnam. Part 2 is the time they spend in Vietnam and it features many horrifying scenes that scared and unnerved me more than most horror films I’ve seen in my entire life. Then part 3 focuses on the trio post-war and the effects it has on them and their close family and friends. Cimino does an indescribably fantastic job at directing this masterpiece and he puts major focus of scenes that seem to not be important and later prove to be vital to the development to the story and the characters. Robert De Niro gives one of his greatest performances I’ve ever seen from him right up there with “Taxi Driver”, “Raging Bull” and “Cape Fear”. His portrayal of Mike is heartwarming and brutally raw all at the same time and you feel the relationships between all the characters to be 100% genuine. Meryl Streep is fantastic in a supportive role as Linda who’s the sweetheart of Nick and close friends with Mike and Steve. The imagery is impeccable and sticks with you and it’s almost indescribable how the scenes in this film whether they’re horrific or beautiful last with you long after the film ends. It runs a little over three hours but it doesn’t feel that way at all and I was sucked in by the amazing story, fantastic performances, and excellent use of landscape and scenery. The great character actor John Cazale is great as the trio’s unpredictable and impulsive hometown friend Stosh. He died soon after filming and before the film even released which is an awful tragedy as he was only in 5 films (“The Godfather”, “Dog Day Afternoon”, “The Conversation”, “The Godfather Part II” and “The Deer Hunter”) and all of them were incredible. The scene everybody remembers from this film is when Mike, Nick, and Steve are forced to play Russian roulette against each other after being captured by Vietnamese soldiers. It’s a memorable and perfectly executed scene that shows the horrors of war first hand. Along with all those kind of scenes there’s the beautiful ones like when Mike is up in the mountains hunting the deer or when they’re all at Steve’s extravagant wedding. I think John Savage and Christopher Walken are overlooked a lot for their roles in this film which is too bad because everyone in this film is perfectly cast and perfects their role. “The Deer Hunter” is an intense, and sometimes beautiful psychological drama that is truly one of the most classic films of the 70’s and it’s one of most well-made films I’ve seen in a very long time.