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The Deer Hunter Movie Review

film michael cimino awards

1978 – Michael Cimino –

Few who have seen this film talk about it indifferently. To some, the sprawling story of three men from a steel mill town in Pennsylvania who enlist for service in Vietnam cries out for some cuts and the shaping hand of a good editor; to others, the intensity of the Vietnam scenes is so unsettling as to rob the film of any entertainment value. Even the film's most enthusiastic defenders still acknowledge a few flaws.

Director Michael Cimino dwells on the early scenes of the workers, their unwinding in a bar, the wedding of Steve and Angela (John Savage and Rutanya Alda), and the friends' deer hunting as a contrast to the later horrors that the men encounter in Vietnam. To show the eventual impact of the war, the film must first establish the norms for these characters, and the actors convey the richness of the camaraderie the men feel in their many memorable performances. Since some of the characters, especially Michael (Robert De Niro), are introspective, nonverbal people, their personalities come across more through tone of voice, movement (the joyous dancing and pool playing after work), and facial expressiveness than through the content of their words. A particularly poignant moment occurs with Nick, who is traumatized after his ordeal as a prisoner of the Viet Cong. His crying scene at the hospital in Saigon is gripping and emblematic of the film's strengths, as a moment on screen that we are not quite sure we have ever seen before. Walken's sobs come as a series of violent heaves and retches between shuddering bouts of quiet. His body seems as if it is attempting to rid itself of all the harrowing memories of the war sob by painful sob, like a stomach trying to expel its contents. The visceral nature of the material is so intense that much of the characters' behavior (like the argument between John Cazale and De Niro over borrowing hunting boots) seems to lie at the instinctive level.

The impact of the film is also determined by the motif of Russian roulette, which turns up again and again in the plot. Perhaps the film may be accused of manipulation, of taking the sufficiently intense experience of war itself and magnifying it with what is admittedly not an experience representative of many soldiers. But Cimio has often said that he was not attempting to make an anti-war film but one that showed the effects of stress on relationships. It is on another deer hunt after the war that Michael, who now knows what it is like to be the hunted, spares a deer in the cross hairs of his rifle. Cimino's richly textured film then traces how Michael begins to heal from his experiences at war and how Nick does not.

Cast: Robert De Niro (Michael), John Cazale (Stan), John Savage (Steven), Christopher Walken (Nick), Meryl Streep (Linda), George Dzundza (John), Chuck Aspegren (Axel), Shirley Stoler (Steve's mother), Rutanya Alda (Angela), Pierre Segui (Julien), Mady Kaplan (Axel's girl), Amy Wright (bridesmaid), Richard Kuss (Linda's father), Victoria Karnafel (sad-looking girl), Jack Scardino (cold old man), Joe Strand (bingo caller), Po Pao Pee (Chinese referee) Screenwriter: Michael Cimino, Deric Washburn Cinematographer: Vilmos Zsigmond Composer: Stanley Myers Producer: Barry Spikings, Michael Deeley, Michael Cimino, and John Peverall for Universal MPAA Rating: R Running Time: 183 minutes Format: VHS, LV, DVD Awards: Academy Awards, 1978: Picture, Director (Michael Cimino), Editing, Sound, Supporting Actor (Christopher Walken); Nominations: Actor (Robert De Niro), Cinematography (Vilmos Zsigmond), Original Screenplay, Supporting Actress (Meryl Streep); Directors Guild of America Awards, 1978: Director (Michael Cimino); Golden Globe Awards, 1979: Director (Michael Cimino); Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards, 1978: Director (Michael Cimino); New York Film Critics Awards, 1978: Film, Supporting Actor (Christopher Walken); National Society of Film Critics Awards, 1978: Supporting Actress (Meryl Streep).

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