The Deer Hunter (1978 USA)

Deer HunterThis is a little overlong and it could easily have lost 30 minutes (although not all from one place) to give it a tighter feel. Some scenes feel stretched beyond their useful duration leading to the feel that the film wanted to be 3 hours long, rather than being cut back to 3 hours long. Despite this though I still think this is a good film that is a powerful story at it’s heart. Just don’t think it would make it into my Top 50, if I could be bothered making one.

Three steel workers from a small town in Pennsylvania prepare to go to war in Vietnam. The night before they go, Steven is married, sparking a large celebration. The next morning they go deer hunting one last time in the woods before they leave. Time passes and the three meet up again in Vietnam as prisoners of war. Brutal mental torture affects them in different ways before they escape and are separated again. Back in Pennsylvania Michael realises the extent to which the war has not only affected him but devastated the lives of his friends in different ways.I have seen this film several times and I’ll admit that I always assume that it is a classic film mainly  because I saw it twice when I was in my early teens and was blown away by parts of it. I want to acknowledge that it may not be as great a film as many critics lists believe it to be, but at the same time I still find it to be a moving story and a good film.

The plot is moving if viewed on it’s surface as a tale of three men whose lives are deeply affected by the war. Going past that to deeper themes I always feel that it doesn’t manage to be as deep as it thinks it is, so I try not to linger too long on these. The breakdown of the film gives significantly more time to events in the home town rather than Vietnam. This is as it should be – for many people the war was a fleeting thing that has stayed with them for much longer than they were actually involved. The wedding scene is overlong but it does serve as a chance to get to see the characters in their setting before we quickly move to the events that changed them and the people they become. The time in Vietnam is quite short but very memorable (many people who have never seen the film will still know these scenes) and the final hour or so of the film is moving even if it takes things to an extreme to make it’s point.

The cast make the film work as well, if not more, than the material itself. De Niro is the rock on which it all stands and is pretty good. The only weakness in his performance was that he was the one who had to be `the hero’ type who does what he can. Walken gets the lion share of praise for his is the role that changes the most significantly throughout the film. It is easy to forget that he was not anywhere near as famous as De Niro at this time and it is amazing in that regard to see him hold his own. Savage gives a good performance and support is strong in the form of such actors as Cazale, Dzundza and Aspegren. Even Streep gives a performance refreshingly free of sentiment or forced accents… Btw, I disapprove of all hunting. Deer, bunny rabbits, you name it. Let em live is what I say. Now that’s enough hippy talk for today!



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