Saturday, April 30, 2011

Day 10 - The Deer Hunter

The Deer Hunter (1978) directed by Michael Cimino

In coming up with an opening comment for The Deer Hunter, I could not help but think of the Edwin Starr song War and its poignant yet simple chorus, "War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing!" Just listen to that song once and you can pretty much sum up the message of just about every single war movie ever made. Just once for shits and giggles I would like to watch a pro-war movie, if only to see if it could be done. I'm sure somewhere in North Korea, they are working on a propaganda film right now in the event they decide to bomb us. I'm guessing the reason they haven't yet is because they're ironing out the script. Even Kim-Jung-Il can't make war look pretty. The Deer Hunter, it should be noted, is more about the effects of war on its participants rather than of war itself. The actual wartime segment lasts no more than 45 minutes of the three hour movie. The rest of the film is a rather protracted before and after picture of three friends who go into Vietnam and leave as broken men trying to pick back up the pieces of their lives.

The first hour of the movie introduces us to the main characters, Michael (Robert De Niro), Steven (John Savage), and Nick (Christopher Walken) who are preparing for Steve's wedding and one last hunting trip before they go off to Vietnam. They are small town guys who have a job at the factory, like to go to the bar to drink and shoot pool and sing songs and hunt deer in their free time, a couple of average Joe's. Then there is the wedding and after party where the three buddies couldn't be having any more fun. Oh, if they only knew what lay ahead of them. At around the hour mark, we get a nice transition into the second act when they're all gathered around in the bar admiring the beauty of their friend's piano playing, contrasted by the very next scene in Vietnam where a village is being bombed.

The remainder of the film is defined by what happens in the next thirty minutes. The three amigos are captured by the Vietcong who sadistically force their prisoners to play Russian roulette. Locked up below, they can hear the click of the empty shells in the room above them and each successive click becomes more nerve racking than the previous one until we finally hear a bang and the thud of a body dropping to the floor. Michael, Steve and Nick are all forced to play and the experience affects each person in its own way. I have never held my breath as many times watching a movie than during these scenes.

Without giving too much away, they survive the ordeal but are separated during the escape. Nick ends up in a military hospital, physically shaken and psychologically scarred. Michael carries a badly injured Steve to safety and leaves him with other officers to take him to a hospital. From this point on, the story shifts its focus to Michael as he returns home unaware of the fate of Nick and Steve as he tries to cope with post-war civilian life.

IMHO (in my humble opinion for you non-internet geeks) the first hour of The Deer Hunter just dragged on needlessly. It just seemed like I was watching them going about doing absolutely nothing.  Maybe this was to contrast the normal every day lives they were leaving behind with the harrows of war, but it just didn't do it for me. In any event, the wait for the real movie to begin is worth it as the Russian roulette scene is absolutely enthralling. The post-war segment suffers from the same slowdown as the first portion, but at least by this point we are paying full attention and interested in seeing how things progress for the characters after the war and the finale is arguably even more intense than the middle.

For the most part, The Deer Hunter does an effective job in getting its point across, but there is a lot to be said about brevity. While he did a great job in putting it all together, one wishes director Michael Cimino would have taken a page from from Edwin Starr's book and made it short and sweet.

Grade: B+

1 comment:

  1. I totally agree with you dude. This movie is cool, but not THAT cool. It doesn't deserve all the hype it gets. Walken is cool, and the russian roulette shit is really bad ass, but other than that let's just call it a wrap. There are many other war movies that demonstrate the bad effects of war that I like a helluva lot more.

    Ha ha ha. I can't believe you opened it with that song reference. You are such a dork. Love it.

    God you make me so mad. So you spend 3 hours watching this but you STILL won't see Gone With The Wind?