Monday, August 18, 2008

The Deer Hunter (1978, Dir: Michael Cimino)

"The Deer Hunter" is three hours long, and when you are directing a film this long you can't skim over character development. You really can't... but "The Deer Hunter" does that. The director seems more interested in maintaining a constant aura of chaos, and not just in the war scenes - the wedding scenes at the beginning are great examples of this. Coupled with the confusing segues and lack of clarity in the editing, it makes the film very hard to keep track of. Characters get lost in the mix and the actors are given very little opportunity to create three-dimensional personalities.

I think that Cimino wanted the film to be really overwhelming, so he made each scene as busy as possible. He needed to realize that the subject matter itself is overwhelming, as is evident in the comparatively restrained war sequences - in comparison to the first and final sections of the film they are positively zen - and that a better idea would have been to create a feeling of starkness and/or placidity in the Pennsylvania scenes, so as to provide a greater and more powerful contrast. The ending is hokey to the max, and was really disappointing in the way it fell back so quickly onto easy sentiment. The music is very... odd? The soundtrack really needed to be rethought.

Robert De Niro offers a very guarded performance. His role, alone out of all the others, really gives opportunity to show connection between the different characters, but he doesn't fully grab hold of it. As a result, Mike's emotions and feelings towards other characters are murky and poorly drawn. Christopher Walken is bravura, and invests his character with more soul than De Niro, but he still isn't given adequate room to explore. It could have been a phenomenal performance without the hindrance of shoddy direction and poor plotting. John Savage fares better simply because his role is very straightforward and his arc isn't skirted by the script, but his trauma is still powerful and upsetting.

"The Deer Hunter" also bothered me with its casual misogyny - all the women are portrayed as stock wife/girlfriend or mother types. Meryl Streep's role is utterly idiotic, so it would be nitpicky to complain about wasted opportunities (there really aren't any opportunities to waste), but despite her valiant efforts in this thankless part she still doesn't provide us with a real sense of Linda's motives or conflict (Nick or Mike? She doesn't seem bothered either way). Rutanya Alda gives an interesting mood and presence to her few scenes.

I think I'm being excessively negative, because "The Deer Hunter" definitely has its moments - the Vietnam War scenes are genuinely shocking and powerful, and the first Russian roulette scene is very intense. Still, the actors are neglected, the plot is dimly conceived and the symbolism is heavy-handed, so I can't give this more than a B-.

AN: 08/25/08 ~ Changed my rating to "C+".
AN: 09/05/08 ~ Changed my rating to "C"


Emma said...

Can't say I'm the biggest fan of this film... principally because, and this is not going to sound v. clever, but, I found it boring.

Anonymous said...

I like it a bit.