Release: 20th August 2018
Format: BR / DVD / DGTL
In 1968, Michael (Robert De Niro), Nick (Christopher Walken) and Steven (John Savage), lifelong friends from a working-class Pennsylvania steel town, prepare to ship out overseas following Steven’s elaborate wedding and one final group hunting trip. In Vietnam, their dreams of military honor are quickly shattered by the inhumanities of war; even those who survive are haunted by the experience, as is Nick’s hometown sweetheart, Linda (Meryl Streep).
The Deer Hunter has long been held as a classic. Not just a stand out moment in the careers of some of Hollywood’s most elite thespians, and not just as a standout war movie in an epic genre, but also as an example of western filmmaking in general. It has also been accused of being over sentimental, racist, operatic and inappropriate. Basically, if you had to describe the ultimate awards film, this’d be it.
So at 40, how does the old girl stand up? Basically, all of the above still applies. With a slow and methodical hour-long first act, The Deer Hunter feels like the precursor to Netflix’s model of prolonged teasing of plot and character. The second hour is a jolt of terror that rips you from complacency in a very methodical way. Suddenly, the toils and menial reality of everyday life is a world away, as Michael, Nick and Steve suffer innumerable traumas at the hands of moustache twirling Vietnamese soldiers. But it truly is the tragic third act that carries the film on its shoulders; and we all know how that ends.
In hindsight, the film’s more problematic elements are less so when viewed through the prism of emotional reality. To three small town men dumped in the middle of any war, it would seem like hell on earth. Vietnam then, in particular, would have been just as disturbing, just as helpless. We only spend an hour in this purgatory, for the real vets, this would have been a Groundhog Day of terrors for years on end. So then, the Russian roulette becomes a thriving metaphor for the daily gamble of life and death each soldier on both sides experienced everyday before, during and after the Vietnam war.
Michael Cimino had failed to make a decent film before The Deer Hunter, and would fail to follow its success. An exercise in patience, tension and commitment, The Deer Hunter may have been a fluke for its filmmaker, but remains an important contribution to cinematic history none-the-less. With this 4K transfer, there is a whole new experience to be discovered.
Film Grade: B+
A wealth of disappointing extras highlight just how misguided and lucky Cimino was. The deleted scenes are worth a look, however the lack of cast interviews is a drag.
Special Features Grade: C-
A stunning print supported by lame special features. Hardly the definitive edition one might have hoped for, even though the accompanying artwork is brilliant.