This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Dragonknight’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
”One shot. Just one shot.”
The contrast between the opening and closing moments of a movie has rarely been this sharp and saddening. Michael Cimino’s humanistic and poetic take on the war in Vietnam begins with a group of young and cheerful characters whose happiness, pride and sense of satisfaction seemingly will never be shaken but it ends in despair and woe as war destroys their joys, darkens their shining suns and turns them into ghosts who no longer can recognize their own family and friends.
The Deer Hunter, despite being full of life in its first hour, is in the end a disturbing account of the recklessness of war and its ruining effects on the mind and soul of individuals who upon entering battlefields expect pride, hope and glory but are instead presented with savagery and madness which will change their lives forever. This focus on war’s impact on individuals is highlighted by the film’s general focus on its three main characters, their lives and their interpersonal relationships with each other. Here Cimino keeps the war action to the minimum, there are no action-packed battles in the film, the action scenes are very brief in fact, but this refusal to show the physical aspects of war allows the movie to build on its central idea : the psychological effects of a situation like the one that Michael, Nick and Steve find themselves in is far more challenging, dangerous and distressing than the physical disabilities that it might inflict upon them.
That is why that blood-freezing Russian roulette scene in the middle of the movie plays such an important role, it is the beginning of Nick’s insanity. He has been in the war for some time but in that moment he faces something that he has never seen before, something which is psychologically beyond his – or anyone else’s – comprehension. Steve is already going mad in the scene and while Michael manages to survive that particular occasion but as we see later in the movie he also struggles to adapt to the everyday life in his post war days.
The Deer Hunter benefits from an excellent ensemble cast: Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, John Savage and Meryl Streep (one of her least famous roles but she gives a truly touching performance) are all exceptional in their roles and give life to their complex characters. Michael Cimino’s ability to narrate his story without hiccups and without falling into the realm of sentimentality is admirable, as is movie’s exceptional cinematography (the work of Vilmos Zsigmond, a true master) and its minimal score. This is a movie about the everlasting and paralyzing effects that the brutality of war can have on those who are involved in it and is as upsetting as those effects themselves. A great classic.