Revisiting the 1978 classic movie “The Deer Hunter”

There have been many American films about the Vietnam war and “The Deer Hunter” was one of the first and finest, being nominated for nine Academy Awards and winning five including Best Picture and Best Director (for Michael Cimino who originated the story). I saw it on its original release and revisited it on the big screen 40 years later. I had forgotten how long it is (just over three hours) but it remains a moving and shocking work.

The first hour or so is set in a Pennsylvannia steel town (although it was shot in eight different locations in Ohio) with a traditional Russian Orthodox wedding and rubustious reception, before jumping to the horrors of Vietnam (filming was in Thailand). We meet three steelworkers who have just been drafted: Mikey (Robert De Niro), the hunter of the title, Steven (John Savage), the husband of the marriage, and Nick (Christopher Walken) who has just proposed to Linda (Meryl Streep).

The film was immediately criticised for its repeated use of disturbing sequences of Russian roulette on the grounds that there is no evidence that such events actually occurred. However, like the deer hunt, the Russian roulette is a metaphor: the first of an experience of simplicity and nobility, the second an illustation of chance and brutality, both deployed twice in ways which contrast with each other and each use.

The cinematography by Oscar-nominated Vilmos Zsigmond is striking and the main title theme by John Williams is haunting which, with a strong storyline and fine acting across the board, makes for a truly memorable movie. Viewing it again four decades later, it is wonderful to see how Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep have carved out such long and illustrious acting careers.

Wondering what films to download for viewing over Christmas & New Year? You can read my reviews of almost 70 classic movies here.


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