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The Deer Hunter


The Deer Hunter (1978)



Director: Michael Cimino
Starring: Robert De Niro, John Cazale, John Savage



It's fitting when a film takes a biased approach towards a certain subject, but ends up telling a very honest story. Such is the case with The Deer Hunter, Michael Cimino's 1978 Vietnam War film, starring Robert De Niro, John Cazale, John Savage, Meryl Streep, and Christopher Walken. At times blatantly one-sided, The Deer Hunter is still an impressive film that towers over most competition.

It's rather interesting that The Deer Hunter takes a pretty close-minded approach towards the Vietnam War. That's not to say the war was worth fighting. To this reviewer, it was wasn't. But one thing The Deer Hunter does get wrong is it, at times, offers up sentimentality as a tool to push the film along. Ironically, however, Hollywood and America have so much in common in comparison.

America is undeniably well-known for being proud and prideful regardless of any wrongdoing, and Hollywood tends to jump onto this, if you will, bandwagon. American Sniper, for instance, directed by Clint Eastwood, took Chris Kyle and turned him into something that I would say he wasn't - a messianic figure who, as far as the audience is concerned, practically won chunks of the Iraq War.

And yet, The Deer Hunter is a fascinating character study, a sobering tribute to the American - regardless of any lack of point of view, after all, it is what it is - and an examination of a troubling time in the nation's history, not just overseas, but at home as well. One scene of the film sticks out for me, when the guys are sitting in the bar listening to John play a beautiful piece on the piano. And suddenly, the film takes a violent turn as we are thrust into Vietnam.

Not only is it difficult to watch the characters of The Deer Hunter go through Hell, but it's even more difficult when they go through it together. Without spoiling any major plot points, things don't go so well over time, which is even more heartbreaking to me. War is Hell, no doubt, and The Deer Hunter paints a grisly picture of what it was probably like at a remote prisoner of war camp. This film inspired a rash of Russian roulette incidents due to its iconic portrayal of the game throughout, made all the more accessible since The Deer Hunter won the Oscar for Best Motion Picture of the Year, but it's message is never lost, exposing viewers to some of the most intense scenes ever caught on film.

Many have complained about the film's wedding sequence, or argue that the film takes too long to set its characters up in Vietnam. I strongly disagree. In order for the audience to feel even remotely sympathetic towards the characters, one has to be jammed into what is arguably one of the biggest nights of their lives, and only then dropped into war with them. And it's pulled off quite well. Actually, spectacularly. Which is why The Deer Hunter will always remain one of my favorite films.

Regardless of its insistence on America, rather than present a story without borders, The Deer Hunter is still an incredibly moving picture with one of the most heartfelt endings to any movie I have ever seen. Violent, but meaningful, and featuring incredible performances from Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep, and Christopher Walken, The Deer Hunter is a gritty portrayal of the living casualties of war and how it effects the true American way of life, and while it isn't perfect, there really isn't much room to complain.