A visceral engagement for its time of the American/Vietnam war, The Deer Hunter looks to the impact the war has on a migrant Polish blue-collar community in Pennsylvania.
With a narrative told over three parts of comparible length (before, during, after), director Michael Cimino (Thunderbolt & Lightfoot, The Sicilian) builds context as steel workers celebrate at the wedding of Steven (John Savage – The Thin Red Line, Hair) three of their own heading overseas. Life will never be the same for the three hunting buddies or those left behind.
Confronting, with brutal scenes of pyschological warfare (the Russian roulette scene indelible once seen) juxtaposed with post-war scenes in Saigon equally challenging, it’s a feature that also celebrates community, courage and friendship. Michael (Robert De Niro – The Godfather II, Silver Linings Playbook) refuses to give up on Steven or Nick (Christopher Walken – Hairspray, Catch Me If You Can): Linda (Meryl Streep in only her second film) and the boys’ friends await their return.
Muted tonality and (mostly) claustrophobic cinematography (Vilmos Zsigmond – Close Encounters, The Black Dahlia) add to its heightened sense of power that is simultaneously harrowing and engrossing. And the ending? Irony? Love of country? A communal coming together? It’s a hard call seeing the film 50 years later with the benefit of time – The Deer Hunter itself was released just three years after the American withdrawal from Vietnam with emotions raw…
Nominated for 9 Oscars in 1979 including best actor (De Niro), supporting actress (Streep), original screenplay, cinematography – won 5 for best film, director, supporting actor (Walken), sound, editing.