Friday, October 3, 2014

The Deer Hunter (Best Picture 1978)

I always take notes while I watch these films. To prepare for these reviews I note the important plot points, because sometimes I don't have time to write reviews immediately after watching the film. I also note interesting scenes or I note something I may want to comment on here.

Here's what I wrote about the first 45 minutes of The Deer Hunter:
Friends work at a steel mill (PA?). Somebody (Stevie) is getting married. Stevie, Michael, and Nick are going to Viet Nam. 

Yes, that is the first 45 minutes.

I would like to write that The Deer Hunter is a fantastic 90 minute film about the US involvement in Viet Nam. It uses Russian Roulette as a symbolic representation of the conflict that the US could not hope to win. All of the characters are scarred by their participation, and these characters are brought to wonderful life by award-winning actors. The film runs at a breath-taking pace, with a steady Director holding the reigns on a production that bounces back and forth between Pennsylvania and Thailand (standing in for Viet Nam).

I would love to write that. And I truly believe that there is that film buried deep inside this film.

The Deer Hunter is a mess. It is a three hour film that meanders, like a tipsy old man, through Pennsylvania to Thailand (standing in for Viet Nam) and back again, babbling on about how Russian Roulette symbolizes the conflict (it hurts just to have to participate and nobody walks away unscathed). The actors do the best they can with the badly delineated characters, making us care about some of them in spite of the awful pacing and direction of the overall production.

Let me give you another reason this film is flawed. The movie takes 68 minutes to get through Steve's wedding and a hunting trip. Then suddenly we are in Viet Nam. Mike is somehow wounded at a VC village. He watches an enemy kill the whole village, so he fire-blasts them. Steve and Nick suddenly show up, and all are suddenly captured. So...the story and director feels obligated to show us an hour of drinking, wedding, and hunting, but we don't get one minute of how the guys are not in the same outfit, or how they came to be in the situation we find them in? I mean, come on. If you're going to argue that we need 68 minutes of scenes of their so-called normal lives, don't we deserve a few minutes of their Viet Nam situation? 
There are plenty of great scenes in this debacle. The scenes playing Russian Roulette in the VC POW camp are taut and powerful (although historically inaccurate). The helicopter rescue scene is breath-taking. Meryl Streep and Robert DeNiro in their scenes are stunning. Christopher Walken portrays Nick, who is DeNiro's best friend and competent enough to survive on his own. When he is rescued but Steve and Mike are not, his guilt is over-powering and he ends up going AWOL. His scenes later in the movie are terrific, and he totally earned his Best Supporting Actor award.

If you are committed to watch this, just be ready to spend a looooong time at the Bingo game and at the Pennsylvania mill and at the wedding and at....

The Deer Hunter
*Academy Award Best Picture of 1978*
Produced by Michael Deeley, Michael Cimino, and John Peverall
Directed  by Michael Cimino
Screenplay by Michael Cimino, Deric Washburn,
Louis Garfinkle, and Quinn K. Redeker

Something about the trailer, no spaces between link and text

Also Nominated:
(in alphabetical order)
Coming Home
Heaven Can Wait
Midnight Express
An Unmarried Woman
The race this year was between The Deer Hunter and Coming Home, two films about the Viet Nam War with wholly different points of view. Although Jon Voight and Jane Fonda won Best Actor and Best Actress for Coming Home, the film did not win Best Picture. Also nominated is the excellent Midnight Express, the story of Brad Davis spending years in a Turkish prison. An Unmarried Woman was another "independent woman" film that seemed to be so popular in the Seventies. And Heaven Can Wait is the "WTH?" film of the bunch, a sweet comedy romance starring Warren Beatty.

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