The Deer Hunter Screen 65 of 12 reviews

The Deer Hunter

1978

The Deer Hunter Poster
  • It's a work whose qualities change dramatically depending on the spectator’s position relative to it. Often described as fascist for its crude depiction of the Northern Vietnamese as sadistic, psychotic and animal-like, it’s also been exalted for its richly sketched portrayal of a small Pennsylvanian factory town and the people who inhabit it... Cimino tears away the placidity of proletarian Anywheresville and brusquely resituates us in a numbing world outside common-sense morality.

  • Like Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements, Cimino composed his masterpiece in parts––allegro, andante, and con moto––though in Cimino’s case the execution is not necessarily in that order. Both works use notes unfamiliar to the art form, yet The Deer Hunter’s visceral, bloody take on the Vietnam War, which begins with a wedding and ends with a funeral, is seamless.

  • It's true that both Bridges and Walken's more sensitive, feminized characters are sacrificed, while Eastwood and De Niro's cocky counterparts live to swagger another day. Yet in neither instance does it feel like these deaths are for the greater good. They're stains that will linger, likely unacknowledged, on the souls of those left behind, as well as on the American character that Cimino dissects, with id-upchucking grunginess, over the course of each film.

  • Both a source of power and a difficulty for the film lay in Cimino’s blend of filmic techniques, coalescing into a style difficult to pin down, at once to be uniquely earthy, authentic, and realistic in a way anyone could grasp, and yet also floridly artistic and deeply stylised, even mythic in reach and resonance.

  • The Deer Hunter has taken some well-warranted flack for its representational issues, metaphorical heavy-handedness, and punishing miserablism. But Cimino—gifted at constructing cinematic communities, as also evidenced by his rightfully reclaimed Heaven’s Gate—is smart enough to leave room for his actors to complicate and critique this rusty, macho, Rolling-Rock-powered milieu.

  • That Cimino is dealing in pure fantasy should be evident: no three people from the same small town would ever end up in the same Vietnamese trap, except within the realm of myth... The invention of the roulette game is itself in keeping with the other liberties taken in the film. That sense of constant exaggeration is what much of The Deer Hunter is about.

  • [It's] De Niro's character who is, in hindsight, the most intriguing of the three, as he's the one on whom the harsh legacy of war has imparted the least direct effect. His impulsive decision to spare the life of a deer later in the film may be the start of a new pacifist streak, but it's strangely upsetting that a man could see all that he has seen and manage to conceal the psychological fall-out.

  • The Globe and Mail: Jay Scott
    February 17, 1979 | Great Scott! (pp. 33-36)

    To judge The Deer Hunter solely as a movie is to judge it an honourable failure with redemptive sequences of great power. But to judge it as part of a cultural process is quite another matter... One does not have to agree with The Deer Hunter to sympathize. One does not have to like it to recognize its value.

  • The film’s first act, set in a Monongahela Valley, Pennsylvania mill town but mostly shot in the precincts of Cleveland, has a gorgeous Ashcan School grit as shot by the prodigiously gifted Vilmos Zsigmond, but the “In the shit” passages are flatly bogus, and the blue-collar vamping is embarrassing when placed next to really coal-dusted Keystone State.

  • The least visually distinguished of Cimino’s films (and that includes his mainly workmanlike remake of “The Desperate Hours”), the one that’s most dominated by his script and by the showily earnest, white-heat performances of its stars. It’s also Cimino’s least observational film, and the one in which his intentions and his editorializing show through a scrim of on-location realization that’s too thin. It’s the least of Cimino’s films, the one in which he does least what he alone does best.

  • While the results are far from unprofessional, the male self-pity is so overwhelming that you'll probably stagger out of this mumbling something about Tolstoy (as many critics did when the film first came out in 1978) if you aren't as nauseated as I was. I much prefer Cimino's Heaven's Gate.

  • This three-hour saga of three Russian-American Pennsylvania steelworkers in and out of Vietnam turns out to be massively vague, tediously elliptical, and mysteriously hysterical... It reflects in its operatic inarticulateness certain tendencies in the supposedly ambitious American films of the past decade, while at the same time it slips in a disturbing subtext for which Cimino alone must be held accountable.

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