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The Deer Hunter (1978) - Review

I saw this movie a week ago, and although I wrote down my initial thoughts and feelings about The Deer Hunter, I didn’t write up a full review at the time. I had heard good things about the film, and it was rated highly on IMDB’s top 250 movies, but after finishing it, I completely hated it. I thought large portions of the film were boring to the point of being tedious, and the few scenes with action were sickening, on the verge of disturbing (and I didn’t like A Clockwork Orange because I thought it was tame). I couldn’t understand why it was so highly touted.

I thought it over, and I realized the answer after seeing a portion of the movie for a second time a few days later on AMC. The reason that The Deer Hunter is critically acclaimed is because it is a powerful movie: It is capable of eliciting strong emotions, and those emotions stick with you.

The Deer Hunter is the story of lifelong friends from Pennsylvania whose lives, and the lives of all those around them are dramatically changed by Vietnam. Three men from the group go to serve, and are captured by the Vietcong. They are then forced by their captors to play Russian roulette for the captor’s amusement. For those who do not know what this is, Russian roulette is a game where a revolver is filled with a single bullet, the cylinder is spun so that the bullet is in a random chamber, and then the two “players” take turns shooting the gun at their heads until one of them gets the chamber with the bullet and kills themselves. (Note: After the release of The Deer Hunter there were several dozen Russian roulette style deaths)

The Russian roulette scenes were the ones that stuck with me the most after seeing this movie. While the prisoners playing Russian roulette was bearable for me, later in the movie when people chose to play of their own free will, it was a little disturbing. People were literally throwing away their lives for a thrill or for money. In one of the final scenes where Nicky (Christopher Walken) plays against Mike (Robert De Niro), I actually sat back in horror when Nicky shot himself. It was only a movie, but Mike’s reaction where he just cradles Nick’s head in his arms, repeating his name over and over as blood spurts everywhere, seemed so real to me. I actually felt like I had just lost a good friend.

Despite these powerful scenes, I still agree with my initial perceptions. There were large portions of the movie that, although necessary to set up the characters, were almost impossible to sit through because of boredom. The parts that were exciting were also sickening. Add to this that the movie length was over three hours, which is quite a long time to sit through when the movie is only marginally interesting. Overall, although it had powerful performances, it was one of my least favorite movies.

Film Filter rating 1.5 / 4

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