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THE DEER HUNTER, 1978
Movie Review


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THETHE DEER HUNTER, 1978
Movie Reviews

Directed by Michael Cimino
Starring: Robert DeNiro, Meryl Streep, Christopher Walken, John Cazale, John Savage, Rutanya Alda
Review by Surinder Singh


SYNOPSIS:

In a small industrial town in the USA, Michael (Robert De Niro) and his circle of friends are called to fight in the Vietnam War. The war affects all of them psychologically and physically changing their relationships with each other forever.

WON 5 OSCARS Ė Actor in a Supporting Role (Walken), Editing, Sound, Director, Picture

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REVIEW:

When people look at De Niroís portfolio of work they tend to favor his work with Scorsese and concentrate their attentions on his roles in Raging Bull and Taxi Driver as his best roles. Whilst this is completely justified I have always felt that his performance in The Deer Hunter is arguably his best work to date. From an acting point of view itís a non showy performance, Michael is a more subtle outsider than Travis Bickle and his emotional journey is portrayed much less by a physical state like Jake La Motta but more internally. Itís De Niro moving more along the lines of what Pacino was doing with Michael Corleone. Essentially showing a characterís inner conflict in his eyes, restraint without large external gestures.

Despite having De Niro in the cast, The Deer Hunter is a real actorís film due to the flawless ensemble cast of supporting players. Christopher Walken in a career-defining role actually won the Oscar for his supporting role as Nick, a man destroyed psychologically by the effects of war. Meryl Streep as Linda; one of her early roles that showed immediately what a magnificent talent she was and John Cazale as Stan still firing on all cylinders after Dog Day Afternoon. Like The Godfather, putting together an ensemble cast of such quality creates an interesting dynamic where the actors continuously have to up their game to keep in step with the talent around them.

The wedding scene is a prime example of this dynamic. Itís a scene that involves all the actors, giving you a very detailed portrait of their characters and the individual relationships they have with each other. At once we notice that De Niroís Michael is the leader of the pack yet at the same time an outsider. Also we see that underneath his very honorable demeanor he does have feelings for Nickís girlfriend Linda (Streep). By the same token itís clear that Streepís Linda might also be harboring feelings for Michael and Walkenís Nick certainly does have his suspicions. This is all shown beautifully in the looks, gestures and in the eyes of the performers. Itís also a lot of fun to watch this scene as you feel like youíre there with them very much like the wedding scene at the beginning of The Godfather. Itís a skillfully directed scene that allows you to get to know all the characters while introducing the impending war that will effectively consume them.

Before duty we get to see De Niroís Michael in his true environment: hunting in the mountains. De Niro shows us how the hunt is like a ritual to Michael. When Stan forgets his boots and Michael refuses to lend him his spare pair we get a feel for how important the hunt is to Michael. Then when we see Michael actually on the hunt with his rifle aimed at a deer we can see that this is his vice. Out of all the men upon that mountain we know that it will be Michael whoíll bring home the kill! In fact, the deer kill is a wonderful silent performance by De Niro. Heís telling us things about Michael that couldnít be communicated words.

Perhaps the most memorable scene that people remember in The Deer Hunter is the horrific game of Russian roulette in the Vietcong hut. Itís a powerhouse of terrifyingly real emotions by the actors and relentless suspense. You canít even blink for fear of missing something! Like the drill sergeant training in Kubrickís Full Metal Jacket, we get a torturous insight into how war can destroy you from the inside just as much as the outside. We arenít just observers at this point, we feel intimately involved with the terror Nick and Michael are experiencing. Itís Michael who leads his friends (and us) through the hell inside the hut. Like in the hunt he assumes the role of leader; comforting the shivering Steven (John Savage) and itís he who loads the pistol with enough bullets to kill the Vietcong. De Niro is nothing short of breathtaking in this scene leaving you in no doubt that this portrayal is far superior to his Jake La Motta.

You can see traits of The Deer Hunter performance in De Niroís latter roles. If you look at his role as Nick McCauley in Heat (1995) he displays similar qualities as the leader of a group who all look up to him as the figure of authority. In Michael, De Niro is giving us a real war hero who might actually exist in our world; rather than a pumped up, fantasy incarnation like Stalloneís Rambo. The role of Michael contrasts quite nicely with De Niroís Travis Bickle who has just arrived back from the Vietnam War. Both are clearly affected by the experience of war but Michael arrives back with more positive aims for his life back home. Whereas Bickle remains outside of society looking at it with disgust, Michael wants to be a part of things as he actively pursues his relationship with Linda.

This creates a conflict in Michaelís relationship with Nick who is still missing in Vietnam. Michael had promised Nick not to leave him behind and we know that Michael will honor that promise. But how would Nick feel if he returned to see Michael with the woman he loves? The final game of Russian roulette between Michael and Nick in Vietnam resolves this issue. This is truly one of the greatest scenes in De Niroís career; he pours every ounce of emotion out of his body as Walken drops dead. Itís impossible not feel his sadness; this is the mark of a true screen actor. The Deer Hunter is perhaps the best portrait of how the Vietnam War affected the young men who went out to fight. Nowhere is there an identifiable missionÖonly madness and violence. When you look at the casualties in The Deer Hunter, very few are actually caused by the Vietcong. The way that Walkenís character is killed from his own pistol through madness perfectly captures the sentiments many had about the Vietnam War.

The Deer Hunter is a film that nobody should miss and is a must for anybody interested in screen acting.



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