The Deer Hunter (1978)
Director: Michael Cimino
The Deer Hunter falls into the coming home-type of war film. It asks, how do people take the awful experiences they have had back into normal life? Is it even possible? We watch three different reactions, from the fearful, physically injured man, the one who comes undone mentally, and our main character Mike, who feels guilty about surviving and cannot move forward with his life.
The film is very good, and I can see why it is considered one of the best war films in cinema history. However, I couldn't help feel that I was watching a director's cut of a film that could have been shorter. I understand why Cimino wanted a long first act - to portray the bonding of the men, and the world they are leaving behind - but it did need an editor. The acting is top-notch, which you would expect from this cast; De Niro, Walken and Streep manage the complex emotional entanglements well.
The war scenes are incredibly tense, particularly the infamous Russian roulette scenes. I can see why they caused controversy, but the Vietnam War, like any other war, has attracted its own mythology and such scenes are emblematic of the unimaginable horror many soldiers witnessed. No wonder De Niro's Mike or Walken's Nick can't find peace.
The film is flawed, but very powerful. Do not look for political discussion or an even-handed exploration of a very divisive war. The Deer Hunter takes you through the loss of innocence of America, and how war, rather than cementing brotherly bonds, breaks the stability that such relationships rest on.