467 - The Deer Hunter - 3 stars
When is a Vietnam war movie not a Vietnam war movie? When it's The Deer Hunter.
For this is not your typical war movie, in fact you hardly see any of the war itself. In fact it could be about any war as it is not about the conflict but the effect that war has on people. This is part of what makes this a difficult movie to watch, and there are a couple of different reasons:
1) The pacing.
For modern day audiences, this must seem like it is moving at a snail's pace compared to films like yesterday's viewing The Bourne Identity. One colleague said that he has tried to watch it twice but never made it past the wedding scene.
It is over an hour before we get to Vietnam, as the the film initially looks to develop the main characters (Robert De Niro, John Savage and Christopher Walken), their relationships and the small town community where they live.
2) Russian Roulette
War fans will be left disappointed as we almost jump cut forward from a post-wedding deer hunt straight to Vietnam where our trio of friends have been captured by the Vietkong. No big battles scenes, Platoon or Saving Private Ryan this is not.
How are three main protaganists managed to all get assigned to same unit is beyond me. The US Army must be as small as Aberdeen, where everyone seems to know everyone!
They, along with other prisoners, are forced to play russian roulette by their captors who bet on the outcome. These are difficult scenes to watch as the level of tension is very high and made more convincing by the fact that De Niro and Walken are really being slapped around by their captors. No wonder De Niro looks pissed off!
The film goes onto look at the different impact the war and the torture they endured has on them. De Niro returns home, falls in love with Meryl Streep and finds it difficult to re-integrate into the town, Savage ends up in a military hospital while Walken stays in Vietnam and plays russian roulette for money.
This leads to the final showdown between Walken and De Niro, who returns to bring his friend home. Playing against each other, it is a fantastic scene and a heartbreaking finale and it was probably this scene alone that won Walken the Oscar for this movie.
As a war movie it will be a disappointment for some people, especially those of a younger generation, but as a study of the effects of war it is a deeply moving and fascinating film.
On the lighter side of life it did lead to a great drinking game called The Beer Hunter where you take a six pack of beer, shake one up, mix them around and then take turns in opening them next to your face. One to try next time you're at a party!