Tuesday, June 10, 2008
The Deer Hunter
So after that mad dash to finish the 2007 movie season via DVD, I got a little sidetracked by Lost. Seriously that show is like crack and I've fallen behind on actual films. I thought The Deer Hunter would be a good place to pick up the beat with it's longstanding status as a classic. Twas the winner of 5 Academy Awards and is largely to blame for director Michael Cimino's ability to get Heaven's Gate made. Most of the film nerds know that Heaven's Gate turned out to be a flop and a fiasco thus spiraling Cimino's career into the toilet. After watching The Deer Hunter for the first time, I have to wonder why people thought so highly of him. All the faults of TDH are largely to blame on the director.
Essentially this is the story of three friends from a small town in Pennsylvania that join the Army together to go fight in Vietnam. Michael (Robert De Niro), Steven (John Savage), and Nick (Christopher Walken) all seem unsure of their decision during Steven's wedding the weekend before their Army careers start. Complicating Michael's close friendship with Nick is their love for the same gal played by Meryl Streep. The three friends reunite in Vietnam right before they are captured behind enemy lines. The trials in the prison camp and ensuing escape will each affect the soldiers in different ways that will last forever.
Cimino takes foreeeeeeeeeeeever to get this story going with the opening act being 45 minutes of the fellas last weekend together at home. The wedding sequence is way too long with very little if anything happening except to establish minor characters in roles that do not matter to the overall story. Sure John Cazale and George Dzundza are terrific actors, but they have no importance to the main storyline and should have had their parts trimmed down.
The leads are all quite excellent in their respective parts. It is a pity that the opening sequence with all the great actors suffers from bad sound, innane dialogue, and bits of the wedding celebration that do nothing but draw attention away from them. If you get this kind of cast maybe you should... I don' know... FOCUS on them. John Savage to me is the most underrated actor of this bunch. His part is overshadowed here by the central friendship to this story. Savage is truly wonderful with the scraps the script gives him. DeNiro is pretty much just De Niro and he does do that well. Walken's part feels cut down too much with never allows you to understand the change in his personality. Which leads me to...
While taking all the time in the world with the first 45 minutes of film, Michael's trip over to Saigon to try and get his dear friend Nick back is done in barely 15 minutes. Plus you never truly establish that Nick's character would go into this life with the Russian roulette sect. I don't buy that the most grounded character, Nick, would suddenly become addicted to that life of one bullet, one kill. What may have seemed profound in 1978 feels very forced in 2008. This has to be one of the weaker entries in the Best Picture Winners in the grand scheme of things. Clearly the ending captured people and made this memorable, but alas the journey there is barely worth the ride.