Blog Directory CineVerse: The Deer Hunter - 30 years later

The Deer Hunter - 30 years later

Friday, May 22, 2009

Thirty years ago, one film was bold enough to take aim at audiences with a Vietnam War bullet of a story that, beneath its shell, didn’t necessarily preach an anti-war or a pro-patriotism message. It simply shot through the heart with its utterly realistic portrayal of everyday men whose lives are drastically altered by the monstrosities of war.

Directed by Michael Cimino, The Deer Hunter is considered by many to be the seminal Vietnam War movie of the 1970s. Thanks to stellar performances by
Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep, Christopher Walken (all nominated for acting Oscars), John Cazale and John Savage, a gripping screenplay co-written by Cimino, and stunning cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond, it is also among the most critically praised films of that decade, going on to win five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor (Walken).

The Deer Hunter tells the story of a trio of Pennsylvania steelworkers– three ordinary Midwestern guys who enjoy bottled brew and buckshot season as much as any man’s man–before, during and after their horrific experiences as soldiers and skin-of-their-teeth survivors in Vietnam.

While comprising only a third of the film, the Vietnam sequences are among the most psychologically intense and brutal depictions of war ever captured on celluloid. Particularly disturbing is the “Russian Roulette” scene, in which De Niro and his POW friends are forced by their Vietnamese captors to play a suicide game with a loaded gun to the head–a violent vignette that, after 20 years, still haunts viewers.

The movie proved to be as physically exhausting to shoot as it is emotionally exhausting to watch: De Niro was nearly seriously injured during a helicopter stunt, and shortly after filming was completed, Cazale–who had earlier wowed audiences as brother Fredo in The Godfather films--died of cancer.

Surprisingly, 1978 proved to be the coming out year for a handful of important Vietnam War-related films: the anti-war epic Coming Home was a critical and popular success, earning best actor and actress Oscars for Jon Voight and Jane Fonda; and Who’ll Stop the Rain, and The Boys In Company C garnered rave reviews for their realistic portrayals and rich character studies. And only a few months after the Deer Hunter’s release, Francis Ford Coppola’s groundbreaking Vietnam War myth Apocalypse Now hit theaters.

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