Worth A Look: 21.99%
Pretty Bad: 10.64%
Total Crap: 1.42%
5 reviews, 111 user ratings
|Deer Hunter, The
Michael Cimino, before he became synonymous with the overwrought failure and bankruptcy that was Heaven’s Gate, made one of the most powerful, affecting, emotionally devastating movies of his or any other generation. The Deer Hunter polarized the movie-going public in 1978, touching something deep those who saw it. Nearly 30 years after it was made, the movie lives on as one of the most impressive films of an impressive decade.Robert de Niro, John Cazale, Christopher Walken, John Savage, Meryl Streep all in one movie? That in itself is a formidable distinction for a film to hold, but add to the equation that each one of those actors gives arguably their finest performance, and the real importance of The Deer Hunter starts to crystallize. Each performer morphs into his respective role so impeccably that it is impossible to imagine this little steel-town doesn’t exist somewhere, with its huge weddings, seedy bars, and excruciatingly hard work abound.
"God Bless America"
Cimino has often been slammed for being over-the-top or heavy-handed by critics and stone-headed folks who preach the apparently irrefutable genius of Syd Field and still believe that a movie must arbitrarily run 120 minutes and have plot-points which occur at scientifically pre-determined moments. The Deer Hunter doesn’t adhere to the “Casablanca/Chinatown/Body Heat” rulebooks, and it is all the better movie for it.
Instead, the director splits the movie into three (roughly) one-hour segments which chart the lives of a group of Pennsylvania steelworkers before they head off to Vietnam, during their harrowing service there, and after their homecoming. Cimino’s film creates as tangible a world as possible by not sparing us any detail. The ritualistic experiences of an Orthodox Russian wedding are displayed in as laborious specificity as the casual banter between buddies in the neighborhood bar.
Cutting from the quiet tension of Pennsylvania to the cacophony of wartorn Vietnam, the hour of ‘war story’ begins its wrenching, brutal filmmaking. Fresh and topical in 1978, Vietnam exists to serve the purpose of the story, not as a means of it. This could have been any war, any group of people, at any period of time.
The film is concerned with war, not Vietnam specifically. It is concerned with human beings, with loss, and how extraordinary situations can mold ordinary people. From numb suburbia to enraged Vietnam, the characters evolve and adapt to their situations; each in their separate, devastating way. Minute details of horror are displayed with the utmost importance, forcing the viewer to become that much more affected by the vastness of the movie.
Everything in The Deer Hunter is grandiose except the performances, which are uniformly restrained. This watershed of fantastic acting explores shockingly realistic displays of human suffering in Walken’s slow dissolve into insanity, Savage’s catastrophic destruction, and De Niro’s stifled insecurity.
Speaking in his familiar monosyllabic dialect, De Niro offers up some of his most mystical dialogue from his most mystical character, famously declaring, “this is this, this isn’t anything else, this is this!” while pointing to a bullet. Other characters fall in line with their enigmatic displays of emotion, where a myriad of emotions are expressed, nothing is said, and all meanings are implied.
Brooding and introverted, De Niro’s Michael Vronsky is a complex series of awkward pauses and lingering stares. The character’s indeterminate homosexuality is just one of the many emotions his character hides beneath a stoic façade. A full beard hides his face, while a guise of masculine superiority masks his inner feelings of inadequacy. The only things that he can’t shield are his eyes, and his lingering glances at Streep and Walken dancing at the wedding have been interpreted as a reflection of his feelings towards her. They may be more than this.
Studying the film closely, the love between Walken and De Niro is clearly the most deeply felt in the story, and the one most openly discussed. It motivates nearly every action De Niro makes. Glances are instead in Walken’s direction (presented early in the wedding scenes, where Cimino shows De Niro staring at Walken, and then at a large photograph of him on the wall), not Streep (whom De Niro seems jealous of) and lend a subtle understanding to a rather incomprehensible man.
His closeted homosexuality makes Michael Vronsky a little bit clearer. It perhaps explains one reason why he has so much contempt for his other buddies: notice how when Axel jokingly calls another character a “faggot,” Cimino immediately cuts to a close-up of De Niro, registering disapproval. Later, when Stan launches a tirade against Michael branding him a “fag”, the others quickly rush to shut Stan up, while De Niro stays mute. Have they considered this before? Is their haste to diffuse the situation more of a knee-jerk response to silence what they have been thinking all along? De Niro has repeatedly mentioned that Michael Vronsky is the favorite of all his film roles, and the internal complexity of Vronsky is probably what attracts the similarly baffling actor himself.
Meryl Streep’s quiet performance is equally impressive, however, and lends the film much of its heart. She loves Walken as much as De Niro does, and she conveys the grief De Niro feels within. Somehow, Christopher Walken was the only one to win an Oscar for acting in the film, and his is a performance every movie lover must see: he is heartbreaking.
In a film of such subtle mystery, the huge array of interpretations offered up are fascinating. It is a film to be mulled over and debated, not dismissed because some see it as too ornate. Most actions have double meanings, most dialogue can mean several things, and every frame of Vilmos Zsigmond’s photography is a sophisticated treat.The Deer Hunter will last longer than most films of its generation because it contains two things: true human emotion, and universal discussions of the bonds of friendship as they are tested through tragedy.
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originally posted: 03/25/05 11:49:42