Movie: The Deer Hunter
Release Date: December 8, 1978
Director: Michael Cimino
Starring: Robert De Niro, John Cazale, John Savage, Meryl Streep, Christopher Walken
Personal History: Never Watched Before
Rating: 7.75 Oscars out of 10
The Academy really loves their epic dramas that surround the topic of war. I think I have watched more war movies over the past 52 days during this Academy Award Best Picture Movie Challenge than I have in the past ten years. You may recall, war is not particularly my favorite genre of cinema. But with a cast including Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep and Christopher Walken, I entered into it less begrudgingly than normal.
‘The Deer Hunter’ received praise from both critics and audiences alike back in 1978. It was the tenth highest-grossing movie of that year, making a little under $50 million. Considering its over three hour running time, that is no small feat. Critically it was acclaimed and eventually received nine Oscar nominations, winning five including Best Picture. With that praise did come some controversy as some critics felt the film was a bit bigoted and historically inaccurate toward the Viet Cong. Despite that, ‘The Deer Hunter’ is revered today as one of the greatest films ever made and is on the American Film Institute’s list of greatest movies at number fifty-three.
Even though it is a war drama, I am surprised that it took me all of this time to finally sit down and watch it. That stems mostly from the cast. I am a huge Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep fan. And although I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a Christopher Walken “fan,” I do enjoy his acting as he has given us many fun, quirky performances throughout the years. After watching ‘The Deer Hunter,’ I may have to say that this is my favorite Mr. Walken performance of all time. The Academy must align with that statement as he won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor that year.
Meryl Streep was nominated for her first Oscar for this performance and was, as usual, pure perfection. The role is not tremendous, thus the Supporting Actress nod, but every scene she is in, she dominates. That is a tough achievement considering most of her scenes are with Mr. De Niro. Robert De Niro is frankly, quite astonishing in the role of Mike Vronsky. It truly is remarkable to watch him inside this character. The role requires every emotion to be placed on the table and he does so effortlessly. There is also a nude scene , something I always applaud, with him running through the streets near the beginning of the film. If you pause it at just the right time, you can see “little De Niro” as well. And of course you know I did that.
The movie, one would imagine based on its genre, is difficult at times to watch. The Russian roulette scene that caused a stir back in the day is both riveting and horrifying to watch. Its ‘repeat “sister” scene at the end of the film is equally heartbreaking. It is not often I shed a tear over a war movie, but ‘The Deer Hunter’ can claim that goal. Even the schmaltzy “God Bless America” scene that ends the picture, one that would usually make me roll my eyes, got me a little choked up.
‘The Deer Hunter’ is filled with beautiful imagery, sad yet still relevant scenes and fantastic ensemble acting. At over three hours long, could it have been edited a bit, sure. But that doesn’t take away from the message that the film wanted to convey in 1978 and is still doing to this very day.