28 July 2008

Movie Review: The Deer Hunter

Happened to rent this film over the weekend and will share my thoughts below.

The Deer Hunter
Released 1978
Running time just over 3 hours
Starring Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, Meryl Streep
Directed by Michael Cimino

As a work of visual art it ranks up there with the best films. I have always had a love affair of sorts with grim industrial visages and this film does not disappoint. Overall it presents a depressing but hyperrealistic affair. Just the way I like it.

Running time was no problem, but the first act of the film seemed to drag on and on. The wedding party scene in particular took forever. Cimino could definitely have tightened up the scene a bit. For at least one hour you didn't really know where the director was taking you. This problem would come to haunt Cimino much more tragically in Heaven's Gate.

But I understand that the director was attempting to give the viewer a true feel for the lives of the main characters and setting up the scene for the juxtaposition between their relatively carefree lives before Vietnam, and the damage done to their psyches afterward. At least here the setup made sense, and had a payoff in the long run.

Once the second act commenced the film really got lively, and interesting. Here comes the brute, raw scenes of war, then the falling out that these experiences have on the three main characters. Indeed, this film may be the most compelling tale of the impact of war (not just Vietnam, any war) on a small town and individuals in general that I have seen. Touching, and even tragic.

I understand that this anti-war bias got the film in trouble with veterans organizations. Nothing like Old Glory to worship, eh?

And was it this film that popularized Russian roulette? I would have to believe so, since it seems to be the damn thematic centerpiece of the film.

The actors gave fine performances, especially De Niro who is gradually becoming my favorite actor from this period. And was Meryl Streep ever that young? Hard to imagine now. If there was ever a biopic of Hillary Clinton's life, Meryl Streep would be first choice for casting the lead.

Overall, not the greatest film of all time, but worth watching, and a great approach to the horrors of war from the human perspective. I can see even here, however, elements of what got Cimino in trouble with Heaven's Gate - overemphasis on ambient noise, inability to understand dialogue, drawing out scenes for far longer than humanly possible to endure, including completely pointless scenes that should have been cut.

The end made no sense either. Why the hell would they sing "God Bless America"? It was fucking childish, and made no sense in the context of everything having previously transpired.

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