The Deer Hunter (1978)

The Deer Hunter

  • Director Michael Cimino and Writer Deric Washburn craft an unsettling picture about people torn apart, sometimes literally, by the calamitous effects of war. It is intense. It is emotional.
  • It is not perfect. Like many films of its era, The Deer Hunter doesn’t bother developing female characters.
  • Even Linda (Meryl Streep) is virtually depthless. She is afraid of her father, in love with Nicki Chevotarevich (Christopher Walken) and willing to take comfort from Mike Vronsky (Robert De Niro). And that is all we know about her.
  • Yet, she is written better than other feminine characters, who aren’t given any personality.
  • Furthermore, split into three distinct one-hour-long acts, The Deer Hunter is plotted unevenly. While the second act, which occurs in Vietnam, is near perfect, the first is flawed. It is meant to introduce us to the lead characters and their relationships with each other, as well as to the town in which they live, but it gives too much attention to a wedding between Steven Pushkov (John Savage) and his bride Angela (Rutanya Alda). It also focuses too much on minor characters, namely Stan (John Cazale).
  • As such, the first act doesn’t delve into its character’s lives; it only scratches the surface, which in turn limits the viewer’s emotional investment.
  • The final third stretches credulity by under-explaining Nicki’s path and also having him survive events for longer than he should. The biggest problem? Why does he still care so much about Steven that he sends money every month, but so little about Mike that he’s willing to risk his friend’s death?
  • For all of that, The Deer Hunter is still a quality film.
  • The scenes in a Vietnam war camp are incredibly tense, and brilliantly realized.
  • Mike is well developed.
  • The actors are terrific, with Walken and De Niro standing out.
  • The themes are vibrant and well executed.
  • Filmmaking technique is strong.
  • The second act is one of the best war-sequences ever put on film.
  • And so forth. The Deer Hunter is good, just not great.
  • Final Grade: B

10 thoughts on “The Deer Hunter (1978)

  1. I’d give this a A- in my book. the first time I saw this (early 80’s) it really blew my mind. Before this I watched films without really feeling much emotion. This was one of the first films (perhaps the first) that twisted me the wrong way inside.

    • It does pack an emotional punch. No doubting that. But it has enough flaws I couldn’t go higher than a B.

      I will say all of the emotion in it is why I went B instead of B-Minus.

    • De Niro’s good here. Very good even. I think him better in both Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, though. This one felt a bit less … awesome than it might have if I hadn’t watched it immediately after seeing those other two.

  2. I still need to see this epic film. Sounds like it has one or two weaknesses, but nothing that weighs down the ultimate drama. Nicely written as usual man

    • Thanks again. It definitely has some flaws, but it also remains quite good. Walken and De Niro make this worthwhile all on their own. I don’t quite understand the Streep love this one gets, though. She was fine, certainly, but – in my opinion – not special.

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