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Deer Hunter, The (1978, Robert De Niro, John Cazale)



Cimino’s Oscar winning The Deer Hunter is one of the handful of genuine anti-war movies, showing how the Vietnam war affected those who went, those who stayed behind, the friends, the families and even the towns they came from.

The film opens in a typical Pennsylvania steel town where Robert De Niro, John Savage and Christopher Walken are preparing to serve their tour of duty. A final hunting trip with friends John Cazale, George Dzundza and Chuck Aspegren is their final bonding and an augury of things to come.

The action then switches to Vietnam, where the three soldiers have been taken prisoner and are forced to play Russian roulette. De Niro tricks their captors into allowing him more bullets and the three escape but Savage is seriously wounded and Walken unhinged by his experiences. Separated, De Niro returns home where he strikes up an affair with Meryl Streep, Walken’s girlfriend. But realising he can never lay the demons to rest, he first seeks out Savage, now in a veteran’s hospital and then, back in Saigon, Walken, a drug addled psychotic who plays Russian roulette for a living. The final denouement is both tragic and chilling as Cimino shows what the war did to three ordinary American guys who become a metaphor for all the men who did their tour of duty.

The film won Oscars for best picture and director, and Walken won best supporting actor – De Niro was pipped by Jon Voight in Coming Home, ironically another anti-war film. De Niro was, as usual, meticulous in his research, spending weeks anonymously mixing with steel workers at Gary, Indiana, to get a feel for their lives and morals while Cimino’s decision to use Russian roulette as a metaphor for the stupidity of war remains at the heart of the film although the actual sequences are actually less shocking than memory allows. There was no actual evidence that the North Vietnamese troops had ever inflicted the ‘game’ on prisoners but Cimino wanted to show how it, like war, blurs the lines between bravery and cruelty, friends and enemies, sanity and madness.

All reviews were unanimous in praise of both the film and the cast, who all seemed to reach the peak of their talents in the film in what ranks as one of the finest ensemble pieces of acting ever seen on screen. Despite the passing years, The Deer Hunter still stands as a film that shocks and moves the motions without ever resorting to gratuitous techniques.

production details
USA | 183 minutes | 1978

Director: Michael Cimino
Writer: Deric Washburn

Robert De Niro as Michael Vronsky
Meryl Streep as Linda
George Dzundza as John
Christopher Walken as Nikanor “Nick” Chevotarevich
Shirley Stoler as Steven’s Mother
John Savage as Steven Pushkov
Joe Grifasi as Bandleader
Amy Wright as Bridesmaid
John Cazale as Stan
Rutanya Alda as Angela
Pierre Segui as Julien
Richard Kuss as Linda’s Father
Dennis Watlington as Cab Driver
Chuck Aspegren as Axel
Mary Ann Haenel as Stan’s Girl
Mady Kaplan as Axel’s Girl
Paul D’Amato as Sergeant
Christopher Colombi Jr. as Wedding Man
Victoria Karnafel as Sad Looking Girl
Jack Scardino as Cold Old Man
Joe Strnad as Bingo Caller
Helen Tomko as Helen
Charlene Darrow as Red Head
Jane-Colette Disko as Girl Checker
Michael Wollet as Stock Boy
Robert Beard as World War Veteran
Joe Dzizmba as World War Veteran
Stephen Kopestonsky as Priest
John F. Buchmelter III as Bar Patron
Frank Devore as Barman
Tom Becker as Doctor
Lynn Kongkham as Nurse
Nongnuj Timruang as Bar Girl
Po Pao Pee as Chinese Referee
Dale Burroughs as Embassy Guard
Parris Hicks as Sergeant
Samui Muang-Intata as Chinese Bodyguard
Sapox Colisium as Chinese Man
Vitoon Winwitoon as NVA Officer
Somsak Sengvilai as V.C. Referee
Charan Nusvanon as Chinese Boss
Jiam Gongtongsmoot as Chinese Man At Door
Chai Peyawan as South Vietnamese Prisoner
Mana Hansa as South Vietnamese Prisoner
Sombot Jumpanoi as South Vietnamese Prisoner
Phip Manee as Woman In Village
Ding Santos as V.C. Guard
Krieng Chaiyapuk as V.C. Guard
Ot Palapoo as V.C. Guard
Chok Chai Mahasoke as V.C. Guard