Saturday, June 27, 2015
635. The Deer Hunter (1978)
Running Time: 183 minutes
Directed By: Michael Cimino
Written By: Michael Cimino, Louis Garfinkle, Quinn K. Redeker, Deric Washburn
Main Cast: Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, John Savage, John Cazale, Meryl Streep
Click here to view the trailer
I think we can safely say that my determination to finish this project has returned, full force. Armed with a cup of salted caramel tea, you're getting a rare appearance of me on the blog, on a work night. Add to that the fact that over the last two work nights, I've taken in The Deer Hunter (in two sittings) and with a smile on my face, I might add. It shouldn't be too long now...
The plot is pretty straightforward, split into three pretty decisive parts. The first part lasts almost exactly an hour (I think it's like 1:06) and simply introduces us to the characters. It seems to be Cimino's intention here to get us as attached to the characters as he can, without eating up too much screen time. We meet a group of friends: Michael (De Niro), Nick (Walken), Steve (Savage), Stan (Cazale), John (George Dzundza) and Axel. We meet them as they're getting off the midnight shift, from the steel mill in the small Pennsylvania town where they live (in fact, the film is set in Clairton, PA, which is something like sixty miles from where I live). On this day, Steve is to be married and it is to be the final day before Mike, Nick and Steve head off to the Vietnam War. Act I goes through the wedding party, with Act II beginning abruptly, right in the heat of battle. We pick up on the three as their held captive in a tiny shack of a POW camp, where their captors force them to play Russian roulette. As Mike and Nick are forced to hold revolvers to their temples' and squeeze the trigger, obvious psychological damage is being done by the second, least of all to Michael and to a greater extent to Nick and Steve. The three finally escape, but are separated. We pick up Act III with Michael returning home and, at first, not knowing what happened to Nick and Steve. I'll leave you there...
Boy, where do you begin? With a sip of tea, perhaps?....
Ahhh...Truthfully, I'm not sure about this salted caramel tea, I picked it up because I love things that are salted caramel flavor and I love tea, but I think I'd have preferred regular tea or chamomile.
This is probably the best BOOK movie I've seen in some time. I'd call it the best movie period that I've seen in some time, but I just re-watched Dial M for Murder the other night and damn, what a picture! In other words, I really liked it and I'd even go so far as to call it EASILY the best war film I've ever seen...EASILY! The thing is, is that it's really NOT a war movie, is it? It's a movie about regular people who wind up in a war and it ruins their lives forever. That's the appeal. After watching The Deer Hunter, I took to IMDB, as I usually do when I finish a movie I like and I scoped out the message boards. I can't tell you how many people were cursing the opening scene - the long, long wedding reception! I can understand that. As I watched it, I DID say to myself at one point, "Why is this going on for so long?". Then I realized why and I said to myself, "I hope Cimino drags this out as long as he can afford to". The whole thing is designed, I thought obviously, to make us fall in love with the characters even harder - so that when they went marching off to war, anything that happened to them, would hit us more personally. The longer Cimino spent filming Nicky, Stevie and Michael clapping their hands and drinking and having fun, even hunting deer and having a bit of fun at John's expense, then it was only going to effect (or is it affect?) the audience that much more personally. It was genius on his part really and a risk. I feel like he probably knew that starting his "war film" with a one hour wedding celebration would turn some off, but he had to know that his last two hours would reel 'em back in. In fact, you could look at the whole first hour as a prologue and look at hours two and three, as one, two hour movie. In fact, the war stuff starts so abruptly, that it's as if a whole new film is beginning.
Shame on me for always rooting for gloom & doom. Not only did I get an unwanted unhappy ending with Shoot the Piano Player, but then I turn around and watch The Deer Hunter and get the most unhappy ending of all unhappy endings. Man, what a bummer this film ends on, Cimino showing that you can, technically send your audience home unhappy to success. As much as I would have HATED it, if the film had had a Last Laugh, tacked on happy, cherry ending, I was so bummed out by the way these characters lives ended up. I will, however, nitpick at one little tidbit. I kind of hated that the film ended with the group sending God Bless America. I feel like, at this point, the least thing these characters would be feeling is patriotic. I feel like you could've just as well ended the film with the group singing "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" and it would have made so much more sense than "God Bless America". If you think about it, the last time EVERYBODY from the group was REALLY happy, was that morning, when they'd just ended their shift, one of them ready for marriage, three of them wide eyed with the thought of heroism in their mind, going off to war, drinking at their favorite watering hole, surrounded by their people, shooting some pool, planning a hunting trip and singing along with Frankie Valli. That moment, at the beginning of the film, actually made me smile along with the men and I think if they'd used it at the end, to toast the fallen Nick, it would have made me cry along with them. Nitpicky stuff, but worth mentioning.
After this, I think I almost HAVE to consider De Niro among my favorite actors. I mean, this, Taxi Driver and Raging Bull alone are enough to boost him to the top of the list, not to mention Heat, Goodfellas and Cape Fear, as well as all the others I'm probably forgetting. Not to mention the fabulous Walken, Cazale and Streep performances. Every time I think about John Cazale, I wonder what could have been. What a fabulous actor, who picked his roles wisely - all of them showing up in THE BOOK. Add to that great cinematography and a fantastic score, that pops in at opportune times, to maximum effect.
I think the reason I liked this so much, is because I was able to relate to it. Like I said, the movie is SET about sixty miles from me. Guys who worked the midnight shift, donned trucker caps, went hunting, lived in trailer homes and had drinking buddies are the same types of guys that I've been surrounded by my whole life. I'm not saying I'm ONE of them (far from it, actually), I'm just saying there's a lot of Michaels, Nicks and Stevies around here. Just a really great movie, that uses a three hour time limit perfectly, spending an hour getting us acquainted with the characters, so that when they go through hell, a little bit of us goes with them. When Nick shoots himself and Michael lays down beside him on the floor, crying, clutching Nick's head in his hands, screaming "God, NO", he's doing that for us all, the whole audience should be devastated at that moment. It's such a devastating moment, that I'd rank up there with one of the biggest bummers in movie history, easily a TOP 10 sad moment.
RATING: 9/10 I feel like if I watched this again in say, six months to a year, I could easily give it a '10". However, for now, it's like the guy you just met at a party - he seems awesome, but it's going to take a one on one luncheon before you solidify your opinion of him.
MOVIES WATCHED: 929
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 72
June 27, 2015 8:13pm