Under Michael Cimino’s Oscar winning direction, The Deer Hunter is a film about three friends from a small steel mill town in Pennsylvania who experience the horrors of the Vietnam War together. The film starts with a good long look at the men on the eve of their departure. After a hard day’s work, they stroll down to the bar, sing and drink like they’ve got all the time in the world. Steve (John Savage) is getting married that evening, but only Steve’s mother feels the hurry.
The wedding scenes of the film take their time, showing the men’s last hurrah together. The reception doubles as a going away party for Nick (Christopher Walkin) and Mike (Robert De Niro). And as Steve and his bride, Angela (Rutanya Alda) drive off to spend a night together, the rest of the boys go deer hunting. The hunt scenes have a mysterious, poetic vibe about them, especially to Mike. Then the film drops us straight into the madness of Vietnam, where Nick, Mike and Steve are captured and forced to engage in a game of Russian roulette.
The Russian roulette scenes are the most memorable parts of the film. It becomes a symbol for the intense and random violence that was the Vietnam War. Each of these scenes are an amazing mixture of suspense, horror and violence that are not for the faint of heart. With each pass of the gun is the possibility that these men will blow their own brains out, but if they don’t play, they’ll be killed by their captors.
Somehow out of this violent madness, Mike finds a refreshed will to live and carry on stronger than the rest. We understand that when Mike comes home, he has been changed by his terrible experiences, but he doesn’t show it as much as Steve and Nick. I’d rather not spoil anything, but they have a great deal of physical and psychological issues to deal with. Christopher Walken doesn’t earn that Oscar win for nothing.
While at times I didn’t exactly enjoy watching The Deer Hunter, I can appreciate its intensity and quality. The film did what it was supposed to and did so very well. After spending so much time at the bar and wedding, I could not help but become very invested in the characters, affected emotionally by their situations and held my breath at every pull of the trigger. If you can stomach the intense games of Russian roulette, checking out The Deer Hunter is worth it.
“You have to think about one shot. One shot is what it’s all about. A deer’s gotta be taken with one shot.”