The Deer Hunter – Viet Nam, Human Wreckage & Russian Roulette
In spite of this movie’s acclaimed ground-breaking subject matter, I had not taken the time to watch it until I undertook “The Meryl Project.” Honestly war dramas are not my thing – I didn’t even watch “Saving Private Ryan” which starred one of my favorite actors, Tom Hanks. I think perhaps I’ve seen “Kelly’s Heroes” and “The Guns of Navarone” so many times that they have turned me off of watching more modern war movies. Maybe now that I’ve taken the plunge and watched “The Deer Hunter” I’ll be more willing to try them.
I don’t know if I got a bad copy of this movie or what, but it was sure dark. Maybe it was supposed to be that way in order to set the mood, but I found myself adjusting the brightness on the TV all the way up in order to actually see what was going on. The one bright spot in the movie was Meryl Streep. She was absolutely luminous as the maid of honor. Even all those years ago she had a presence on film that was impossible to ignore. Though she is the ultimate master of dialects, this role wasn’t much of a stretch with just an occasional drop of the g on ing words.
Wow, three hours is a long time to sit watching a movie! I’m positive that this film could be trimmed down to two and a half. The reception scene alone dragged on painfully long – it was like actually attending a reception as opposed to hitting the high points and moving on. Actually the timing of different scenes in this movie was the weakest part of this movie. The intro drags on forever (yes, I know, characters & relationships need to be developed, but to say that it was slow is an understatement), then BAM! we flash forward to a village attack scene where our three heroes reunite, then BAM again! our boys from PA are now POWs and being used to kill time (literally) as their captors use them for cruel entertainment in a game of Russian Roulette. I was wondering if this was supposed to offer a kind of irony since much is made about all of the characters being of Russian descent. Whatever the case may be, Robert De Niro gave a wonderful performance as Michael pep talking his buddies through the horrific ordeal and further demonstrates his self control throughout the movie as the character who is able to keep control of his emotions despite the suffering he experienced in the war and as a prisoner.
Michael’s friends Steven and Nick do not fair as well mentally or physically because of their experiences in Viet Nam – Steven winds up broken, wheelchair bound and hiding from his life in a VA hospital back in the states while Nick goes AWOL in Saigon and falls so deeply into despair that he turns to heroin and (gasp!) playing Russian Roulette. He somehow has the presence of mind through it all to sent money home to Steven at the VA hospital while Michael had no idea where to find him – do you suppose that Nick just looked on Steven’s Facebook page to find out that information on his laptop in the ghettoes of Saigon? Sorry, that part just really bugged me.
So Michael visits Steven, forces him to man up and go home, and realizes that Nick is probably doing some pretty bad stuff and he should probably hightail it back over to ‘Nam and see if Nick can be saved as well. BOOM! We’re back in Saigon as the poop is beginning to hit the fan and Michael is able to locate Nick with very little trouble and a whole lotta dough. I will not ruin the confrontation for you, but again, De Niro gives an outstanding performance as does Christopher Walken. It is not a lovely scene, but if you’ve made it this far, you can handle it.
With regards to the deer hunting scenes in this movie – there is no place in Pennsylvania that looks like the scenery shown in the movie, deer hunting does not entail chasing a deer on foot; deer are very fast and can outrun a human almost immediately, if you miss hitting a deer on your first shot, it will not stand perfectly still and wait for you to try again.
View this movie as a period piece and realize we have come a long way with story line, plot, sub-plots, timing, and irony. As critical as I sound about this movie, I still teared up at the end when the surviving friends sang “God Bless America.”