The Deer Hunter Review
The Deer Hunter is a 1979 Vietnam anti-war drama directed by Michael Cimino and written by Cimino/Deric Washburn/Louis Garfinkle/Quinn K. Redeker. It has garnered a reputation as one of the greatest movies of all time, earning 5 Oscars and being preserved in the Library of Congress.
The movie follows a soldier named Michael (Robert De Niro) before, during and after his military service in the Vietnam War. During these times, we also see the relationships with his friends and how they change over time.
The film's themes boil down to every message the media has crammed down our throats since Vietnam itself; America sucks, Vietnam was unjustified, war is bad. I'm not saying they're completely wrong, I'm saying we've heard it a lot and it does get tedious after awhile.
The film makes sure that you not only care about these characters, but also that you feel their struggle and journey. You feel the happiness of a wedding, the chaos of Vietnam and the isolation of coming back home. You kind of feel like you've lived your own mini version of Vietnam.
The screenplay is very good. The dialogue sounds natural, like things a group of working class men would talk about. It can be heartbreaking and intense, but also funny and heartwarming.
The pacing can be very slow. The entire first act is taken up by a wedding scene so long it could rival the running time of the one in The Godfather. All that really happens in those 60 mins or so of screen time are one of the main characters gets married, another gets engaged and there's some dark foreshadowing. The rest is filler of people dancing and drinking. Maybe they were trying to build up the happiness so it's a shock when they jump into hell in the second act, but I still don't think any one scene needs to be that long.
The lighting is used to great effect to tell the story. Every scene has lighting that compliments the mood and setting. Bright for happiness, darkness and shadow for death or depression and orange to emphasize the heat of Vietnam.
The makeup is spectacular, especially in Vietnam. They do a great job with the dirt, cuts and blood. It genuinely looks like these guys have been through battle. The costume design is the same, showing cuts, dirt and other signs of recent combat. They also nailed the blue collar look of the main characters before they go to war. They wear flannel and denim and when they wear tuxes they look pretty cheap. It really feels like they're just a group of average Joes.
The cinematography is used well. It's nice to see a film that keeps to the shot reverse shot rule, which I've seen a lot of films break lately. No matter what take it is, each character is on the same side of the frame, like they're supposed to be.
The cinematography emphasizes the excellent performances, particularly from De Niro and Christopher Walken. They deliver their lines so perfectly that you couldn't imagine anybody else in their place. They perfectly portray happiness, sadness, anger, desperation and love.
Oddly enough, even though the sound editing is fine for the rest of the film, the beginning falls flat. There were some obvious cuts from one audio take to another and it's very distracting. Thankfully, as I said, it's fine for the rest of the movie.
Some of the VFX are really good. I still don't know how filmmakers put blood spatters in the same take as when a character gets shot. There's also a scene in a hospital where a guy's arms have been blown off. I don't know where the actor's arms went or how they got it to look like that, but good job VFX department.
Summary: This movie is an emotional rollercoaster. It takes you on a journey of joy, insanity and depression. It's a masterpiece, but I can't exactly recommend it. It's the first film to make me queasy while watching and I'm still trying to shake off the depression it's given me as of this writing. It's one of the best films of all time and one I'll never watch again.