Monday, February 20, 2012

The Deer Hunter (1978)

Director: Michael Cimino
Writers: Michael Cimino, Deric Washburn, Louis Garfinkle, Quinn K. Redeker
Genre: War Drama
Duration: 3 hours, 2 minutes
Other Actors: Robert Deniro, Meryl Streep, John Savage, John Cazale
MPAA Rating: This film is rated 'R' for Really-graphic-violence. F-bombs and shi-nanigans abound as well, but who gives a rat's abs about swears when the things you're seeing on the screen are so very disturbing. Enjoy!
My Score: 8 out of 10
Available to Own: DVD and Blu-Ray

Russian Footsie?

Movie in a Sentence: The Vietnam conflict affects the lives of a small tight-knit group of young Pennsylvania steel-workers, focusing mainly on the friendship of Michael (Deniro), Stevie (Savage), and Nick (Walken) as they survive the horrors of POW torture, and struggle with returning to the small-town lives they had before the war.  
Should You Watch This? Yes. This is a heavy, bloody, emotional film. Admittedly, it is over-long, and it does take a while to build up steam, but... wait a minute, what do you mean you haven't seen this?! Just watch it already. Really.
Walken Content: 65%.
Walken Quote: I wanted to find one isolated line from Walken that could stand on its own, but nothing seemed like a good fit. So I decided to go with a quiet conversation that Nick (Walken) and Mike (Deniro) share near the beginning, before their upcoming hunting trip and, of course, the war.

       Michael: I'll tell you one thing, if I found out my life had to end up
                        in the mountains I'd be alright, but it has to be in your
       Nick: What? One Shot?
       Michael: Two is pussy.
       Nick: I don't think about one shot anymore, Mike.
       Michael: You have to think about one shot. On shot is what it's all
                        about. The deer has to be taken with one shot. I try to tell
                        people that; they don't listen. Do you ever think about
       Nick: Yeah. I don't know. I guess I'm thinking about the deer - going to
                    'Nam. I like the trees, y'know? I like the way the trees are, on
                    the mountain, all different. The way the trees are. (beat) I sound
                    like some asshole, right?

This intimate exchange happens in the few minutes they have away from their loud and overtly boisterous gang of friends."One shot" refers to taking a deer down with only one shot, which is more than just macho posturing. Mike's insistence on one-shot reveals his respect for the animal he kills by inflicting a minimum of pain. There are all kinds of parallels you can draw between his "one-shot" philosophy and his impact on the rest of the film.

Nick doesn't care about any of that though. He likes the trees! We see a glimpse of the sensitive guy that Walken plays, the nature-lover that is irrevocably damaged by the horrors of war.

Pensive Walken
GENERAL: The Deer Hunter is a powerful film. There are numerous iconic moments of genius, like De Niro holding a bullet up to the Stanley-the-whiner and saying, "This is this. This isn't something else. This is this." and the multiple nerve-wracking scenes involving Russian Roulette, and De Niro making a bargain with the deer. This film is beautifully shot, painstakingly textured, and most of the performances are grounded in deliciously gritty realism.

On the other hand, it needs to be edited better. I know, I know: it won an oscar specifically for editing. I don't care. It's about an hour too long, and a lot of that hour is made up of tediously long shots of the local boys working at the steel mill, endless wedding celebration, and many shots that just plain went on too long. It adds up. And it slows it down. Sure, I get it. That's his style. The pace is deliberate. He's showing the community, establishing the norm, their jobs, before taking them to Nam and traumatizing them. I get it. I'm just impatient. And I think there is room in that film for a compromise, something closer to two and a half hours.

The awards and attention that Walken got for this film catapulted him into the realm of superstardom. The year was 1978. He won his first and only Oscar for his role in this film. Up until this moment, he was still unsure of his permanence as a film actor. Can you imagine, young Walken doubting himself, his powers, his place? But that little golden trophy meant steady work for decades to come. It was confirmation of the highest sort.

Mr. Walken had indeed arrived.

Walken in The Deer Hunter


  1. I won't quarrel with an "8" for Deer Hunter, as long as you don't go above a 4 when you get to rating "Balls of Fury". Deal?

    1. Ouch. Just a four, huh? Whew. Haaaarsh. Well, I was thinking more like 'six', so if you say five, we got ourselves a deal ... But you have to admit Walken is a delight in this.

    2. And by "this", I mean Balls of Fury. I wouldn't quite describe his role in The Deer Hunter as a delight.