Movies: The Deer Hunter

During the Vietnam War, countless films were made in order to protest American involvement. However, few were as poignant and significant as Michael Cimino’s 1978 Best Picture “The Deer Hunter.” Starring actors such as Robert De Niro, Meryll Streep and Christopher Walken, the film features amazing acting and brilliant direction. Michael Vronsky, played by Robert De Niro, is a factory worker from small-town Pennsylvania who is about to go overseas to fight in Vietnam along with his friends Steven (John Savage) and Nick (Christopher Walken). Fighting in the war means that Vronsky must leave behind the woman he loves, Nick’s girlfriend Linda (Meryl Streep), and his friends Stanley (John Cazale), John (George Dzundza) and Axel (Chuck Aspergren). While in Vietnam, Michael, Steven and Nick are captured by the Viet Cong and are placed in a torture camp, where the prisoners are forced to play Russian roulette for the guards’ entertainment. After a grueling few months at the torture camp, the friends are finally rescued and sent home. However, Steven has lost his legs and Nick stays in Vietnam to play Russian roulette for money. Meanwhile, Michael is stuck trying to keep his life and friends together. This is one film that needs to be three hours long, as it is, and none of us care. There is just so much to this movie; the strong friendships, the tragic violence and the premise of the Vietnam war all need to be addressed equally. Not only do we want to get to know these characters, but we want to really understand them and become part of them in order to feel their pain. Cimino’s sweeping shots of the mountains and of the Vietnam landscape add a hint of grandiosity to the film. These shots exemplify just how widespread the story is. Cimino also uses foreshadowing in the opening wedding scene to show us that this film will not end happily. De Niro and Streep both received Oscar nods for their portrayals and John Cazale, though this was his last role due to his tragic death shortly after the film was released, plays the part of smooth-talking Stanley excellently. However, Christopher Walken, who won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar, is near perfect. The innocence is never lost in his portrayal of Nick, yet we see it being blocked by hate and madness. As we see Nick destroy himself, we want jump into the screen and help him, but we are forced to sit idly and watch. This film has all sorts of themes that intertwine, such as friendship, promises, war and religion. These themes are so perfectly balanced that they hit the audience hard, but don’t confuse them. There is a bit of confusion about the motives of the filmmakers, however. “The Deer Hunter” does seem to be an anti-war movie, yet the final scene contains a serious rendition of “God Bless America.” This is the beauty of “The Deer Hunter;” the film makes you think and forces you to draw your own conclusions. This movie is recommended for anyone who can stand some gut-wrenching scenes and for almost any fan of Robert De Niro or Christopher Walken. Don’t be afraid of the three-hour running time, as it is perfectly feasible to watch it all in one sitting or to break it up into three separate parts. No matter what your opinion about the Vietnam war, be sure to check this movie out. Final Grade: 6 Other Recommendations: Dog Day Afternoon (1975): Earlier John Cazale film starring Al Pacino and boasting terrific acting and writing. Mean Streets (1973): Martin Scorcese’s first feature film shows Robert De Niro (in his breakout role) and Harvey Keitel in their younger days. This is one of my favorite movies of all time. The Godfather Parts I and II (1972, 1974): I guess everyone has seen these films, but if you haven’t, get out from under that rock and rent it. What can go wrong in a series directed by Francis Ford Coppola and starring Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, John Cazale and James Caan?