The Deer Hunter (1978) – Film Review


The Deer Hunter was directed by Michael Cimino who also co-wrote the story that paved the way for the screenplay by Deric Washburn.  Cimino is best known for directing Heaven’s Gate (1980), a film that did so badly at the box office that it almost led to the collapse of United Artists.  This movie had a better time of it winning five Academy Awards and being considered a modern-day classic by many.

The story focuses on three friends and the impact their time in Vietnam has on themselves and their community back in Pittsburgh.  It boasts a very strong cast that includes Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken and Meryl Streep.  It’s laudable intentions and cast aside I’m not going to beat around the bush with this one … I didn’t like it.  It’s a tough watch and I’m not talking about the Russian Roulette scenes.

I’m all for directors not rushing the set up of a film but I believe it is one hour and eight minutes before the trio find themselves in Vietnam.  The first third of the film (yep it’s the best part of three hours) is all about a Russian Orthodox wedding and a hunting trip.  During that entire time I struggled to remember the names of any of the characters or learn anything meaningful about them.  This is just the beginning of the problems.  The film is badly directed and poorly edited together.  We jump straight from the Pittsburgh to a village in Vietnam, then into the three friends being held captive, then there’s a botched rescue, they kinda get separated, then it’s all about De Niro while the other two come and go and some other stuff happens.

If there is one positive thing to say about this film it is the captivity sequence and the game of Russian Roulette they are forced to play.  The film comes alive at this point, as did I, but it quickly loses any impetus upon the return to the US.  I’m probably supposed to be writing about the significance of deer hunting or this film being a reflection of the anti-Vietnam sentiment of the 1970’s but I’ve written enough at this point.

I think the films biggest problem is that it is two or three movies in one but the director didn’t know which way to go.  If you want to tell a story about friends getting ready to go away to war then tell that story.  If you’re more interested in the effects of war then focus on that instead.  Five Oscars.  Really?  My rating 2/5.

P.S. Almost forgot to mention the score is minimalist to be polite and the one recurring theme feels like it came from a romantic drama.

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