The Deer Hunter (1978)

Michael, Steven and Nick are young factory workers from Pennsylvania who enlist into the Army to fight in Vietnam. Before they go, Steven marries the pregnant Angela, and their wedding party also serves as the men’s farewell party. After some time and many horrors, the three friends fall in the hands of the Vietcong and are brought to a prison camp in which they are forced to play Russian roulette against each other. Michael makes it possible for them to escape, but they soon get separated again.
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An unforgettable movie.

23 February 2002 | by martymaster (Fredrikstad,Norway) – See all my reviews

This is a movie with a touching story about friendship and most of all in shows the horror of the Vietnam war. This movie has some of the best acting performances I have seen,and I am of course talking about Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken. They really goes into their roles and creates a great atmosphere. This movie also contains one of the most famous scenes in movie history,the russian roulett scene.This scene is so intense and creepy to watch. One of the few great Vietnam movies ever.

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In 1968, the record company EMI formed a new company called EMI Films, headed by producers Barry Spikings and Michael Deeley. Deeley purchased the first draft of a spec script called The Man Who Came to Play, written by Louis Garfinkle and Quinn K. Redeker, for $19,000. The spec script was about people who go to Las Vegas to play Russian roulette. “The screenplay had struck me as brilliant,” wrote Deeley, “but it wasn’t complete. The trick would be to find a way to turn a very clever piece of writing into a practical, realizable film.” When the movie was being planned during the mid-1970s, Vietnam was still a taboo subject with all major Hollywood studios.According to producer Michael Deeley, the standard response was “no American would want to see a picture about Vietnam”

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After consulting various Hollywood agents, Deeley found writer-director Michael Cimino, represented by Stan Kamen at the William Morris Agency. Deeley was impressed by Cimino’s TV commercial work and crime film Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974).Cimino himself was confident that he could further develop the principal characters of The Man Who Came to Play without losing the essence of the original. After Cimino was hired, he was called into a meeting with Garfinkle and Redeker at the EMI office. According to Deeley, Cimino questioned the need for the Russian roulette element of the script, and Redeker made such a passionate case for it that he ended up literally on his knees. Over the course of further meetings, Cimino and Deeley discussed the work needed at the front of the script, and Cimino believed he could develop the stories of the main characters in the first 20 minutes of film.

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Cimino worked for six weeks with Deric Washburn on the script. Cimino and Washburn had previously collaborated with Stephen Bochco on the screenplay for Silent Running (1972). According to producer Spikings, Cimino said he wanted to work again with Washburn. According to producer Deeley, he only heard from office rumor that Washburn was contracted by Cimino to work on the script. “Whether Cimino hired Washburn as his sub-contractor or as a co-writer was constantly being obfuscated,” wrote Deeley, “and there were some harsh words between them later on, or so I was told.

Cimino’s claim

According to Cimino, he would call Washburn while on the road scouting for locations and feed him notes on dialogue and story. Upon reviewing Washburn’s draft, Cimino said, “I came back, and read it and I just could not believe what I read. It was like it was written by somebody who was … mentally deranged.

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” Cimino confronted Washburn at the Sunset Marquis in LA about the draft, and Washburn supposedly replied that he couldn’t take the pressure and had to go home. Cimino then fired Washburn. Cimino later claimed to have written the entire screenplay himself. Washburn’s response to Cimino’s comments were, “It’s all nonsense. It’s lies. I didn’t have a single drink the entire time I was working on the script.”

Washburn’s claim

According to Washburn, he and Cimino spent three days together in Los Angeles at the Sunset Marquis, hammering out the plot. The script eventually went through several drafts, evolving into a story with three distinct acts. Washburn did not interview any veterans to write The Deer Hunter nor do any research. “I had a month, that was it,” he explains. “The clock was ticking.

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Write the fucking script! But all I had to do was watch TV. Those combat cameramen in Vietnam were out there in the field with the guys. I mean, they had stuff that you wouldn’t dream of seeing about Iraq.” When Washburn was finished, he says, Cimino and Joann Carelli, an associate producer on The Deer Hunter who went on to produce two more of Cimino’s later films, took him to dinner at a cheap restaurant off the Sunset Strip. He recalls, “We finished, and Joann looks at me across the table, and she says, ‘Well, Deric, it’s fuck-off time.’ I was fired. It was a classic case: you get a dummy, get him to write the goddamn thing, tell him to go fuck himself, put your name on the thing, and he’ll go away. I was so tired, I didn’t care. I’d been working 20 hours a day for a month. I got on the plane the next day, and I went back to Manhattan and my carpenter job.

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The Deer Hunter began principal photography on June 20, 1977.This was the first feature film depicting the Vietnam War to be filmed on location in Thailand. All scenes were shot on location (no sound stages). “There was discussion about shooting the film on a back lot, but the material demanded more realism,” says Spikings. The cast and crew viewed large amounts of news footage from the war to ensure authenticity. The film was shot over a period of six months. The Clairton scenes comprise footage shot in eight different towns in four states: West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Washington, and Ohio. The initial budget of the film was $8.5 million.

Meryl Streep accepted the role of the “vague, stock girlfriend”, in order to remain for the duration of filming with John Cazale, who had been diagnosed with lung cancer. De Niro had spotted Streep in her stage production of The Cherry Orchard and had suggested that she play his girlfriend Linda.Before the beginning of principal photography, Deeley had a meeting with the film’s appointed line producer Robert Relyea.

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Deeley hired Relyea after meeting him on the set of Bullitt (1968) and was impressed with his experience. However, Relyea declined the job, refusing to disclose his reason why. Deeley suspected that Relyea sensed in director Cimino something that would have made production difficult. As a result, Cimino was acting without the day-to-day supervision of a producer.

Because Deeley was busy overseeing in the production of Sam Peckinpah‘s Convoy (1978), he hired John Peverall to oversee Cimino’s shoot. Peverall’s expertise with budgeting and scheduling made him a natural successor to Relyea, and Peverall knew enough about the picture to be elevated to producer status. “John is a straightforward Cornishman who had worked his way up to become a production supervisor,” wrote Deeley, “and we employed him as EMI’s watchman on certain pictures.

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It was 1978 and everyone in the audience was about to wet their pants

10/10
Author: yawn-2 from San Francisco, California
6 April 2006

No, this is not the best film about the Vietnam War; it’s hardly about Vietnam at all. The vets who don’t like it have it wrong, as do the Vietnamese who found it racist. It could be any war, with any combatants. But because the (primary) victims here are recognizable American archetypes, Americans will feel this in their gut more than any other war film I know of. This is one of the very few post-war Hollywood films that shows a sincere reverence for the lives of small town Americans.

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After seeing it in a very high quality theater on its initial release, I walked out thinking it was easily one of the best movies I had ever seen – and that I never wanted to see it again. But I looked at it today on cable and found that not much had changed about it, or me. I don’t want to see it again…but I want you to see it.

Even now, the Russian Roulette scene (in context, people: watch all that comes before it first) is the single most intense sequence I’ve seen; it makes the end of “Reservoir Dogs” seem like a cartoon. Best Walken performance, period. Meryl Streep glows, DeNiro has seldom been more affecting. A unique classic…it is not surprising that Cimino didn’t have another movie in him after something this wrenching.

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It’s been given a fairly bad reputation over the years – undeservedly so, too. One of the greatest films ever made.

10/10
Author: MovieAddict2016 from UK
7 July 2004
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

“One shot is what it’s all about. A deer has to be taken with one shot.”

There’s that particularly infamous scene in “The Deer Hunter” that seems to remain more disturbing each time we view it, when Michael (Robert De Niro), a Vietnam veteran, tracks down a friend of his named Nicky (Christopher Walken), who never arrived home after the war and is eventually found in Saigon, playing Russian Roulette for money, his mind an utter mess. He is unable to fully remember Michael, and refuses to return home, and what proceeds in the following sequence is a haunting example of gut-wrenching film-making.

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The Vietnam sequences take place midway through the movie, serving as a connection between the beginning and the end, both of which study the lives of the men and not the war around them. Michael, Nicky and Steven (John Savage) are young Pennsylvanian miners drafted into the war. Steven has just gotten married to the love of his life, but has little time to celebrate as he is shipped overseas with his friends. They eventually all find themselves taken hostage in a Vietnamese POW camp where their captors force them to play Russian Roulette. The rules of the game? Put a single bullet in a random chamber of a handgun, spin it, snap it, raise it to your head, squeeze the trigger, and repeat these steps until there’s only one man left standing.

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After a series of fortunate events Michael, Nicky and Steven escape and make their way downriver. All three men are eventually rescued, Nicky via helicopter and Michael and Steven later on. Steven’s battered, infected legs are amputated and he is left helpless in a wheelchair. Michael returns home as well only to find that Nicky is still back in Vietnam. Nicky’s girlfriend back home, Linda (Meryl Street), begins to fall in love with Michael, but Michael soon remembers his promise to Nicky (“If I don’t make it back don’t leave me over there”) and travels over 2,000 miles back into the middle of his own personal hell to find and rescue his best friend. It’s hard for him to understand why Nicky doesn’t recognize him when he finally tracks him down. “It’s me, Mike.” “Mike who?”

Causing mass controversy upon its release because of its alleged “racist” content regarding the Vietnamese, a crowd of Vietnam veterans gathered around outside the Oscars ceremony and caused riots as well, claiming that the film was “not accurate” and somehow insulting to the veterans of the war.

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However as many film historians, authors and critics have already pointed out, the film is never meant to be a 100% accurate depiction of the events in Vietnam. It is not really a Vietnam War picture at all. Instead, it is a focus on the aftermath of war, and how damaging it can be, both physically and mentally, to its participants. Because of the era that “The Deer Hunter” was released in, Vietnam was a recent event, the focus of the nation, and is therefore used as a more convenient — and relative — backdrop (much like “Apocalypse Now”). Unlike “Platoon” this is not a movie relating specifically to the Vietnam War, in fact less than a half an hour is devoted to the war scenes. It is a character study, and accusations of racism — although perhaps justified to some extent — are hardly convincing as the film itself is not concerned with bashing the participants of the war as it is the war itself.

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It is the film’s necessary setup that is often called long and boring and, ironically, unnecessary, but this is essentially where the nature of each character is examined for the audience. To launch directly into the war sequences would be sloppy, and we would have a harder time caring for the characters. Instead, we are given scenes with weddings, discussions, and hunting trips — normal events. Then, the end, a somber reflection upon the past, chronicles the aftermath of the damaging events in the lives of Michael, Steven, Nicky and their loved ones. Michael has a hard time adapting back to his normal life. It would be hard for anyone, after experiencing such damaging events and images.

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De Niro made a few post-Vietnam films during the ’70s and ’80s, the most famous being “Taxi Driver,” in which Travis Bickle was totally unable to find his way in life again after the war and resorted to violence in order to justify his existence and release his anger. “The Deer Hunter” is similar in approach but reveals more background; this would be a suitable prequel of sorts if the names had been changed.

Over the years “The Deer Hunter” has surprisingly gained a fairly bad reputation — most of which stems back to the controversy surroundings its release and protested accolades.

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Director Michael Cimino’s follow-up (“Heaven’s Gate”) was an enormous flop, bankrupting United Artists, and he had a hard time finding work afterwards. His first feature film, “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot,” which starred Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges, was a buddy road movie that was also a sign of things to come in Cimino’ later features, most notably the process of male bonding, which is a huge primal element in this project. Cimino was an extremely talented and visionary director, and it’s a shame that the ambition of “Heaven’s Gate” cost him his career.

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And furthermore, despite the negativity surrounding “The Deer Hunter,” it is still one of the finest works of American cinema, a touching, poignant and ultimately depressing film that asks us if the effects of war extend past the physical and into the realm of human mentality. Yes, I think they do.

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