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The Deer Hunter (1978)

Last night I finally watched a film that besides The Lion King (1994), is probably the biggest film on my “Films I should’ve seen by now but haven’t” list.

The Deer Hunter (1978)

I’m not a big fan of war films whether it’s Vietnam or Word War II or whatever, but like westerns and mob movies there ARE some that I like.

If you haven’t seen this film it stars Robert De Niro (Taxi Driver), Christopher Walken (Seven Psychopaths) and Meryl Streep (The Devil Wears Prada) among others.

This is what it’s about:

In 1968 three lifelong friends from a working-class Pennsylvania steel town prepare to go and serve in the Vietnam war. With the help of one of the men’s elaborate wedding celebration followed by a hunting trip, the group of friends have one final send off before shipping out.

In Vietnam all three men are captured and are subjected to horrific treatment at the hands of their captors, including being forced to take part in games of Russian roulette.

After escaping the horrors of war and returning home, two of the men face the realisation that life will never be the same again.

The first thing that struck me with this film is the realism. I’m not talking necessarily about the war aspects, although it is pretty harrowing, but rather the realism of the whole thing.

The film spends over an hour of its three hour run time establishing the characters and their relationships with each other. Although this part might seem to drag, it really pays off and adds weight to events that happens later on in the film.

Things that you just wouldn’t see in a movie these days because they might seem trivial or insignificant, all play a huge part in making you feel like you’re watching something real and not a movie at all.

A lot of films from the 70s seemed to take this approach and these days, there’s no way that screen time would be wasted on (for instance), someone asking someone else to pass them a chair over a table (something that happens in this film). It sounds weird but it gives the movie an almost unscripted and improvised feel that I don’t think I’ve seen before.

The performances from all of the cast are incredible! I’m no film critic but I know good acting when I see it, and like I said earlier, it’s so natural that you actually find yourself forgetting that you’re watching Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken play these characters. You believe that they ARE the guys who are going through it all.

I did find it strange how quickly certain scenes jumped forward in time. For instance, for the first 65 minutes they’re getting ready to ship out, then suddenly they’re in Vietnam (presumably having been there a while) and then they’re captured. From that point the movie doesn’t waste any time jumping into the nitty gritty. After that (and not long after that) it jumps forward again. I guess I was surprised that more time was spent on their lives outside of the war than in it.

All in all though I enjoyed the movie - and by “enjoy” I don’t mean that in the usual sense of the word. It’s a tough watch in places and by no means a “feel good film”.

It has superb performances, and like Apocalypse Now (1979) it does an effective job of putting across the horror of the Vietnam war which, sadly for many of those who were involved, didn’t stop when the war did.

I’m glad to have ticked this one off my list but I can’t say I’ll be in a hurry to watch it again any time soon.

Seen it? Let me know your thoughts. 👇

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