These friends from Pittsburgh are about as close as can be, they all work in the same steel mill, they share their social lives together, and have known one another for as long as they can remember. But it is the late nineteen-sixties, and in the United States a long shadow is being cast by a nation on the other side of the Pacific Ocean: Vietnam, where America's young men are drafted and sent to fight against the Communist threat there. In this case, three of them, Michael (Robert De Niro), Steven (John Savage) and Nick (Christopher Walken) are preparing to be shipped out in a couple of days, but not before Steven is married which is happening tomorrow. They are certainly going to make a party of it at the reception...
Indeed, for the first hour The Deer Hunter appears to be a study in group alcoholism, so drunk do the main characters get; after clocking off at work they proceed to be almost consistently inebriated for the next forty-eight hours, and thereafter the all-important social gatherings that punctuated the plot were never far away from at least someone getting absolutely hammered. Was this a comment on how people use the demon drink to stave off the boredom and fear that threatens them at every turn, or was it that director Michael Cimino erroneously thought this was how real folks behaved? The latter would seem to be what he had in mind, with scene after scene devoted to his cast acting with as much realism as he could muster, or encourage in them.
The trouble with that was no matter how talented an actor was involved, simply winding them up and letting them go to try and act natural without a lot else to do other than that direction is going to lead to long sequences going nowhere, which was precisely what happened in the patience-testing wedding scenes, which took up most of that opening hour of a three-hour movie. Cimino's first editor wisely tried to cut this down, but the director would not listen and fired him to supervise the editing himself, an early example of the obsessive control he demanded over his productions that eventually made his name mud in Hollywood after the Heaven's Gate debacle following this. The Deer Hunter, however, was a huge success for him, garnering a clutch of Oscars and audiences flocking to see it.
It was in effect the initial movie on the Vietnam War to take the bull by the horns and show the terrible consequences on both the young men who were fighting in that conflict, and how it affected the United States back home. Before this, Hollywood had given the world John Wayne's The Green Berets, which nobody had thought of as especially accurate, so Cimino's passages concerning the war were vividly harrowing in contrast, more like what those who had only seen the images in the nightly news would imagine had been going on. There was one aspect that he got entirely correct: the pop culture of the U.S.A. would now worry over the wounds of Vietnam to the extent that they would never be healed as the self-examination coupled with a disbelief that it could all have gone so wrong for them proved horribly fascinating.
What Cimino didn't get right, according to everyone who had experience of the events, was just about everything else. In his drive to conjure up a visual metaphor for the folly of the errors made in South East Asia, he returned again and again in the following two thirds to the device of Russian Roulette, so that it became laboured to the point of disbelief. When Michael, Steven and Nick are captured by the Viet Cong, they are forced to gamble with their lives for the entertainment of their captors, and then we are supposed to accept that in Saigon this happened every night. Setting aside the issue that giving a loaded gun to your prisoner is not perhaps entirely sensible, as was highlighted at the time the Vietnamese to a man (and woman) were shown as utterly depraved, getting off on how cheap life was in their part of the world in the vilest ways possible: no wonder the film was so heavily protested at the time. The cast were fine, with the dying John Cazale delivering his accustomed integrity and Walken the broken heart of the piece, but De Niro, intended as the soul of the story, was frustratingly difficult to read, especially over such a long movie. In the end, the issues overwhelmed what once was looking to be an American classic, yet now looks very dubious. Memorable music by Stanley Myers.
[From Studio Canal on Blu-ray: A BRAND NEW RESTORATION AND THE FIRST TIME ON 4K!
Those extras include:
New Interview with David Thomson - film critic
A brand new and exclusive interview with author and film critic David Thomson
1979 ITV South Bank Show interview with Michael Cimino
A rarely seen ITV South Bank Show Interview from 1979 with director Michael Cimino provides an in-depth analysis of his inspirations and motivations for the making of the film
Realising The Deer Hunter
- Interview with director Michael Cimino
Shooting The Deer Hunter
- Interview with director of photography Vilmos Zsigmond
Playing The Deer Hunter
- Interview with star John Savage
Audio Commentary with Michael Cimino
Audio Commentary with Vilmos Zsigmond and journalist Bob Fisher
Deleted and Extended scenes
Deleted and extended scenes from the original production including extra footage of the infamous Russian Roulette sequence.
All that plus:
64 page booklet including material written by Jay Glennie and adapted from his forthcoming numbered limited edition large format book 'One Shot: The Making of The Deer Hunter', new essay from David Jenkins, Editor of Little White Lies and pages from the original 1978 press book
Copy of early incarnation of the script entitled The Man Who Came to Play by Louis Garfinkle and Quinn K. Redeker
X 5 Artcards.]
One of the most controversial directors to emerge from the burst of American talent of the nineteen-seventies. None of those directors had a totally easy ride from the critics or public, but he seemed to suffer the most, having started out moving from advertising to writing scripts for Silent Running and Magnum Force. Once Clint Eastwood noted his promise, he hired him to direct Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, which some still believe is his best effort thanks to Eastwood reining him in. But next was The Deer Hunter, an Oscar-garlanded Vietnam War drama that the world responded to far better than any before, and he had his pick of projects.
Alas, this success went to his head and he became increasingly unbalanced, as the horror stories from his next movie Heaven's Gate would show, a huge flop that still divides opinion on its merits to this day. Cimino resurfaced with Year of the Dragon, a Mickey Rourke cop vehicle tainted by racism, and The Sicillian, an unpopularly benevolent view of an Italian crime lord. The Desperate Hours was a remake laughed off the screen in most places, and his last feature was spiritual drama The Sunchaser, barely seen in cinemas. He was discussing new projects to the end, but it seems his ego continually sabotaged his undoubted talent.