MOVIE REVIEW | ***AFI WEEKEND*** #53. The Deer Hunter (1978)

“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.

 Deer Hunter

“I feel a lot of distance, and I feel far away.”

In 1980, Michael Cimino made Heaven’s Gate, a movie that flopped so hard, it eventually bankrupted the studio that made it.  But a director can only hang himself, and his studio, to such a degree if he’s given enough rope.  So, why would United Artists give Michael Cimino that much rope?  Because only two years earlier, he’d won a Best Director Oscar and a Best Picture Oscar, among half a dozen others, for The Deer hunter.

Michael (Robert De Niro), Stan (John Cazale), Steven (John Savage) and Nick (Christopher Walken) work together in a Pennsylvania steel mill.  After Steven’s wedding, they go on a hunting trip together before Michael, Steven and Nick ship out to fight in Vietnam.  In Vietnam, they’re taken prisoner and forced to play Russian roulette while their captors bet on the outcome.  They manage to escape, but the ordeal has damaged them all in different ways.  And going home isn’t the relief it should be for any of them.  Including people who they left at home when they went to war, like Meryl Streep’s Linda.

I’ve seen The Deer Hunter once a few years ago, and I wasn’t all that stoked about re-watching it for this review.  I remember it being filled with amazing performances, but I also remembered it being too long.  At a little over three hours, I thought it was a tad indulgent and a little too impressed with itself.  But this time around, I found its extended length to be a lot more necessary.

To call it deliberately paced would be selling it a little short.  A wedding reception scene that goes for probably close to 20 minutes needs to be that long because it’s how we get to know these men, and more importantly, we get to know their relationships with each other.  Understanding their loyalty for each other doesn’t just make the more sensationalistic aspects of the story and their actions believable, it’s the whole reason we give a shit about these dudes.  It’s the whole reason the ending is so devastating in the best possible way.

Now I know why The Deer Hunter is on this AFI Top 100 list.  Now I know why it won so many Oscars.  And now I know why United Artists gave Cimino enough money and freedom to basically single handedly destroy their studio with Heaven’s Gate.  Its long and it’s very impressed with itself.  It’s also a showcase of a director and an amazing cast, all at their absolute best.

The Deer Hunter
Directed By – Michael Cimino
Written By – Deric Washburn

Best Picture
Best Director
Best Actor (De Niro nominated, lost to Jon Voight for Coming Home)
Best Supporting Actor – Walken
Best Supportgin Actress – Streep
Best Cinematography
Best Original Screenplay (nominated, lost to Coming Home)
Best Editing
Best Sound

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