Welcome to the next Summer Film Challenge Review! With the 2012 Olympic Games having started, it’s been hard focusing on watching movies when there are so many great events to keep up with in the Games. However, Tyler and I were still able to do something special for this film and see it on the big screen at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica. It was a really great experience and we’re looking forward to seeing many more films there in the future. So, without further ado, here’s my review of the classic Vietnam War film, The Deer Hunter!
A problem that I have with talking about classic movies like this is just about everything I could say about this movie has already been said (in a reviewing sense, at least). It’s been around for over thirty years, it has prominent placing on many of the “Best American Movies of All-Time” lists, and portrays a time in American History that today continues to be studied and debated among historians and the general public. So, in reviewing a classic movie as topical as this one, that has a significant place in history as a part of the New Hollywood movement of the 1970’s as well as partly chronicling the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. I’m not going to focus much on the Vietnam War, as that continues to be an incredibly divisive topic even today and having not lived through it or studied it extensively, I don’t feel I can do the subject justice. Therefore, in addition to solely talking about this film, I shall talk about it in relation to the other classic Vietnam War film that was released around the same time as this one: Apocalypse Now.
Let me first get this out of the way and say this is a tremendous film, not an enjoyable one. I did not enjoy watching this film, much like I did not enjoy watching Schindler’s List, yet that is still a fantastic film. The Deer Hunter is structured very much like Gone With the Wind. The first act looks at the lives of the characters before they go off to war, the second act chronicles what happens to the characters during the war, and the third act looks at the characters’ lives after the war as they try to build themselves back up from the experiences they have been through. Or in other terms (since this is a Vietnam film made during the New Hollywood movement): the first act is too long, the second act is too brutal, and the third act is too depressing. Add on to all that a three-hour run-time and you end up with a film that’s hard to sit through and hard to absorb mainly because of how visceral and raw the experience is. All of that said is not to criticize the film, but rather to give you a better idea of the viewing experience that the film offers, that being a film that’s very hard to sit through, but ultimately a very rewarding experience.
Now seems to be the best time to look at this film in relation to the other Vietnam film that was released only a year after this one (though I believe the other one was in production first). What needs to be made clear about these two films is that they have completely different goals in mind. To classify the film with literature terms, The Deer Hunter is realism, while Apocalypse Now is post-modernism. The Deer Hunter is attempting to chronicle the lives of the characters and how they are changed by the war. Their experiences are portrayed in a very straight-forward fashion with very little cinematic stylization. It’s not out to make a point. Rather, it’s trying to paint a realistic portrait of the lives of the common men who went off to and then came back from the war in Vietnam. On the other side is Apocalypse Now. It’s a film all about symbolism, style, and broad thematic strokes. While the characters in The Deer Hunter are their own characters that are very well fleshed out and established for the audience to relate to, the characters of Apocalypse Now are blank slates that are shaped by the experiences they face. They are representatives for the audience, forced in a away, to embark on this journey down the river, not knowing what will happen to them or what they will meet, just knowing that they will come away changed. Apocalypse Now invites the audience to experience the madness and chaos of war, while The Deer Hunter shows us characters and asks that we listen to their stories.
That was way more deep and philosophical than I was originally intending, but no matter! There’s still the wrap-up! So, final observations about The Deer Hunter: It’s really good! Yes, Michael Cimino, the director, is known as a self-indulgent director, and The Deer Hunter is no exception. The movie runs 3 hours long and contains a wedding scene that runs 51 minutes and makes up a huge majority of the first act. However, the actors are all phenomenal with such legends as Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep (who has literally never given a single bad performance in her life) and John Cazale (his last film role) making up the cast. Christopher Walken is also in this, and while he has a reputation today for being, well… Christopher Walken, this is before he started playing that part. And guys, trust me when I say this, this is his best performance. Seriously. He won an Oscar for this role, don’t argue with me! It’s one of the most powerful, subtly nuanced performances seen on film and it was made by Christopher Walken! If you still don’t believe me, go see it for yourself. It’s hard to sit through and not really fun to watch, but it’s an important film that deserves to be seen, despite it’s flaws.
Final Rating: 9/10
You know, having been traveling all around the world (and even into space), I think it’s about time we return home to LA.
Dammit! Not again! Okay, where and when am I? I did seem to end up in LA, so that’s a start. Hmm… I seem to be surrounded by a bunch of people. They’re throwing back bottles of beer, and they’re pulling combs through their coal black hair… and they seem to be wearing… Oh no!
IT’S A ZOOT SUIT RIOT!