The Deer Hunter Review
"The Deer Hunter", Universal Pictures, 1978
I'm not sure what to add to the conversation when it comes to Cimino's 'The Deer Hunter'. It's an incredibly precise experience - It's presence is lurking, bare and unbelievably understated, wanting you to absorb and feel every single thing in the most authentic way. Scenes, more often than not, just simply play out, sharing every possible detail and everything between the lines that it often collapses through. After watching it, I can understand why it needed to be made, throwing onto the viewer a heap of deeply-layered questions, making for an unashamedly hollow watch that will just outright disengage impatient audiences.
The appeal of this film is far from instantaneous. The sheer amount of dead space that it bathes in something to behold; often alienating. The screenplay takes its merry time to slowly build towards something that even the film doesn't know. Whether or not you decide to slap a 'self-indulgent' sign on it, It does a great job at planting a deep-seeded sense of restlessness that continues to brew, and even when that 2nd act comes flying round the corner out of literally nowhere (literally), the churning perseveres. Grand artistic statements like these that the writing delicately-yet-haphazardly works in highlights the daunting nature of life for these young men that the story follows, throwing in motifs like chance into the fold, all the while feeling far from cliche through just how vividly they're woven in. The direction when it comes to storytelling is certainly a cerebral one, so much so that it often doesn't feel like a story, but more like a retelling of a distant memory that someone wanted to bury away in the far corners of their thoughts, leaving the audience in a weirdly unsatisfying state. I've never watched a film where the audience has been treated in such a no-nonsense way, as if it's used as a tool that celebrates of the ordinary, as gloomy as it is. The lack of comfort this provides perfectly fits how jarring and unpredictable the pacing of its narrative structure, juggling its themes of toxic masculinity, community and commitment in a vividly fragile and haunting way, channeling its claustrophobic intimacy in a variety of different directions - so much so that it won't stop and wait for you to catch up. It's also how the film chooses to say so much with so little. The use of symbolism and metaphor, as crammed in as it is, is employed in a much more pragmatic way that strips out any romanticised poeticism.
In conclusion, there is a lot to appreciate; the ways in which it stretches out it's individual moments in such a garishly raw way is not only reminiscent of De Niro's other similarly character-like roles (such as his celebrated Travis Bickle in Scorsese's 'Taxi Driver'), but how it goes even further than just simply making you uncomfortable . Yes, the story is messy, and I would be lying if I said it wasn't a patience-testing 3hrs, but there's a whole lot to be said for a film that tears out its own soul. It truly feels like a slow, howling call for help.