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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 21.99%
Average: 5.67%
Pretty Bad: 10.64%
Total Crap: 1.42%

5 reviews, 111 user ratings

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Deer Hunter, The
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by PaulBryant

"God Bless America"
5 stars

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.

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
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User Comments

12/08/17 morris campbell overrrated 2 stars
9/11/13 Kymberly Pray In a word: classic. Well cast, and best performance of career for many. CW for president! 5 stars
4/24/12 Monday Morning David Hollands, are you on drugs, you moron? Get a frigging life. 3 stars
8/14/10 the dork knight Tons of metaphors, some of them pushing the boundries of common sense. 4 stars
6/08/10 Flathead King One of the best movies that I have ever seen 5 stars
8/10/09 Jeff Wilder Not as cutting as Platoon. But it still takes a piece out of you. 4 stars
9/06/08 John Winlow Brilliant portrayal of the affects a war has on everyone involved 5 stars
3/15/08 AMIR SHRY I AM SAFE 2 stars
11/29/07 Mike Hunt Deniro's is messed up because of his homo feelings toward walken 3 stars
11/18/07 Deer Hunter Critic David Hollands said, "There’s absolutely nothing sacred about DEER HUNTING!" - Duh! 5 stars
8/12/07 Gaza bored me to death; nice projectile blood though 2 stars
5/29/07 truth Vronsky is NOT A HOMO, idiot. In love with Linda the WHOLE MOVIE. Watch again. 5 stars
2/17/07 G Sherfy Saw it only once and the images still linger today; masterful performance by Walken. 5 stars
2/15/07 I Gluck Uneven but extremely watchable 4 stars
2/14/07 Jack Sommersby Direction and phoptography, first-class; the writing, however, is abysmal. 2 stars
12/05/06 David Cohen Foget this overrated pap and watch Platoon instead 2 stars
10/01/06 Carol Dellandrea Brilliant film. A classic. The contrast between the beautyof human love relationships and t 5 stars
9/13/06 Bitchflaps Interesting character study, despite serious problems with pacing and banal symbolism. 3 stars
8/16/06 Josh Racine Wow! 5 stars
5/05/06 Uri Lessing keen 4 stars
5/03/06 MP Bartley Walken is tremendous, the Russian roulette is devastating, the rest is flimsy. 4 stars
5/03/06 Matt Seaver Hard to argue with this one 4 stars
5/02/06 Ryan_A Flawed - but still fantastic - fantastic film. 5 stars
5/02/06 PaulBryant No problems with the movie, just misinterpretations. Astonishing film. 5 stars
5/02/06 David Cornelius Problematic but very effective 4 stars
5/02/06 William Goss A decent flick, if mildly overlong and overrated. 4 stars
5/02/06 EricDSnider Great Vietnam scenes, otherwise troubled 4 stars
5/02/06 Alex Paquin Not particularly memorable except for the Russian roulette scene. 3 stars
5/02/06 HBS-SH "L" 3 stars
1/22/06 CGR Excellent non-partisan movie - take note Hollywood. 5 stars
8/14/05 Ben With it 5 stars
8/05/05 Indrid Cold Excellent, but several slow and/or overdone parts. Platoon is still the best Nam movie. 5 stars
6/28/05 sa good, yeh...but noway great, nothing spectacula//stil good well told film tho 4 stars
3/31/05 Cindy Sheeks This film was beautifully made from start to finish. 5 stars
3/26/05 Denise great 4 stars
2/20/05 Angolmois Overly sentimental claptrap about 2.5 hours too long. Wedding scene was a snooze. 1 stars
12/13/04 Mrs. BrandyWool I really enjoyed this movie. I loved it. 5 stars
10/23/04 UMER deniro is stunning even without scorsese 5 stars
10/23/04 ODH Great movie, a little long (over 3 hours), but films don't get any better than this! 5 stars
8/28/04 Goggman Very Very depressing and sad. Worth watching multiple even with its 3 hour run time. 5 stars
5/11/04 Kevin Gut-wrenchingly sad, a great film. 5 stars
3/24/04 Alan Well deserved Oscars. The jump from a blissful Chopin Nocturne to the hell of war is a jolt 5 stars
1/24/04 CC Yep....Great 5 stars
1/07/04 Rajneesh Pratran Intakhab IV Worst animal documentary I've ever seen 2 stars
12/24/03 Joel W. De Sario Anti-war movie. Who in the hell likes war? 3 stars
11/27/03 John insightful and stunning in its first hour but ultimately too in love with its own grandeur 3 stars
10/28/03 Sergio A. Stunning performances. 5 stars
9/10/03 Gelasia Prewitt an evocative...a gripping film about friendship and survival!! 4 stars
8/06/03 Meggie Davis Cazale is great and gave his all for the movie 5 stars
6/29/03 DW Wildmore The story brought De Niro to tears, and me too. A Great motion picture. 5 stars
6/17/03 Rakesh Sudra very powerful film which evokes a variety of emotions 5 stars
2/25/03 Monster W. Kung Not the best Vietnam movie out there. 3 stars
2/08/03 mwildema long, it seems very very long 4 stars
1/21/03 bill An american classic... one of the best acted movies ever.. Deniro, Streep, Walken, Savage 5 stars
1/16/03 mattyfresh you gots to love the russian roulette scene. 5 stars
12/31/02 Rakesh Sudra favourite film to date 5 stars
12/31/02 Jack Sommersby Great visuals, but a disgraceful, incoherent scripting. Zsigmond's lighting is brilliant. 2 stars
11/21/02 Milarepa Jones Excellant movie 5 stars
10/29/02 Charles Tatum I defy you to hate this film 5 stars
9/15/02 Procrastinator Breathtaking and powerful. I'd have to say this is the best-acted Vietnam film ever. 5 stars
8/25/02 Turkish great movie, and semore buts is a fuckin idiot if he never heard of russian roulette before 5 stars
4/30/02 Semore Buts Weird as hell game me a headache 1 stars
4/04/02 Cuntlicker Fantastic 5 stars
3/20/02 jazz this is but the best movie robert de niro and christopher walken could offer 5 stars
3/04/02 Girl 9 Awesome? I think not...truth is bad movies can happen to good actors. Pretty bad. 2 stars
2/17/02 Clarance WOW! Holy fuckin shit! Watch this amazing war was/is/and will always be hell!! 5 stars
2/17/02 Marcin Moczulski One of the best movies at all 5 stars
2/14/02 John Nado Beautiful, truly a cinema gem 5 stars
2/05/02 Allan Brown Excellent, tragic: a view of the vietnam war as it was - useless and good for nothing. 5 stars
1/19/02 wintermute Here's an awkward question: Hey Michael, What happened? 5 stars
11/10/01 Rein J. VanderZee, Jr. Best DRAMATIC American movie in Film History. 5 stars
10/18/01 Miguel E. Rodriguez Shattering...Zarathustra should check his pulse 5 stars
9/18/01 Shams Huque Famous for its Russian Roulette scene... 5 stars
9/10/01 angeles a searing trip to the surreal 5 stars
8/13/01 Edwin Menguin 'How the farmers grew their moustaches' is the song 5 stars
8/08/01 Enrique de Pedro what's the well known song everybody sings while they are in the bar and during the hunting 5 stars
7/21/01 André Grisell Engaging, calm, beatiful. Wonderful soundtrack! 5 stars
7/03/01 jacqui best depiction of life, death and relationships as we live them; Walken is a relevation! 5 stars
6/15/01 Law Firm of Dewey, Cheatam & Howe Despite a wedding shot in real time, movie has much value 5 stars
6/04/01 Basil The best russian rullette scene you will ever see. 5 stars
4/24/01 Spetters Quite good. 4 stars
4/23/01 PaulVal A real look at what the before and after of any trajedy feels like. 5 stars
3/05/01 The Bomb 69 could have cut an hour out of it but the acting and ending were riveting 5 stars
3/01/01 Walkenwoman I kneeled in the middle of my living room floor and cried. Christopher Walken is a GOD 5 stars
2/25/01 Tim Gee Flawed but powerful and engrossing - 8/10 4 stars
2/14/01 Peter Carolla Packs an emotional wallop; must be seen many times. 5 stars
12/14/00 Fluff I rented this movie to stare at Christopher Walken, and I got to. He is brilliant. 5 stars
12/06/00 Sacco Thamuz In no way was this film epic. It was overly long and too stylized to be enjoyable 2 stars
11/15/00 salvo toscano boom 5 stars
11/03/00 Cristopher Revilla my dad cryed after seeing this movie, personally, and emotionally powerful movie!!! 5 stars
5/20/00 Elvisfan the first hour drags & feels like four; after that it gets WAAAY intense 5 stars
4/06/00 perverted pixie "You see this. This is this. This ain't something else. This is this!" 5 stars
3/24/00 Bruce Two Words: Russian Roulette, abolutely amazing 5 stars
11/22/99 Tim Leary A complete masterpiece 5 stars
11/08/99 jeff frolupi this film is as powerfull and intense as motion pictures get 5 stars
10/12/99 joe good show 5 stars
9/19/99 Popa Chulo an extremly boring intro. the ruusian roulette is well worth it, though. 4 stars
7/07/99 Ben Leostein Rating: **** (out of ****) Category: "Excellent" 5 stars
7/04/99 J-Dogg This is an amazing film. SEE IT. Moves me every time. Cimino's only good movie. 5 stars
6/24/99 Brad K. One of the best films ever, Walken and DeNiro are brilliant. 5 stars
6/15/99 Dylan De Niro's (& Walken's) finest momemnt. 5 stars
6/10/99 Homer J. Simpson I realy liked this movie,it was well acted plus the vietnam scenes were scary 5 stars
4/09/99 Oli This is one of the greatest films ever, Cimino is a geinius. 5 stars
1/12/99 demon_shredder This is one of the best flicks I have ever seen. DeNiro rules! 5 stars
11/28/98 little jerry The Ist russian roulette scene is one of the all time greats but film is pretty maudlin. 4 stars
11/26/98 Mr.Pink Brilliant! 5 stars
11/26/98 Vick Di Brecci Much of this grandiloquent picture that doesn't wear well with me, but great middle section 4 stars
11/24/98 Silent Rob Powerful tale, about a fractured nation, as seen from a small steel-mill town. Cast heaven! 5 stars
11/23/98 Lord Of The Dunce An eery classic. Cimino knew how to direct. 5 stars
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  02-Feb-1979 (R)
  DVD: 06-Sep-2005


  02-Jul-1979 (R)

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