Writer/Director Michael Cimino's five-time Oscar winning film, "The Deer Hunter", is a powerful and insightful look at the impact of the Vietnam war on a small USA town starring Robert DeNiro, John Cazale, Christopher Walken, Meryl Streep and John Savage. The film, while powerful, never achieves the mark of greatness and I believe, ultimately, was unworthy of its Best Picture Oscar.
Along with Best Picture, the film won Oscars for Walken (Best Supporting Actor), Cimino (Director), Best Sound and Film Editing. Oscar nominations for DeNiro, Streep, the cinematography and the screenplay were also received. "The Deer Hunter" was released around the time of 4 other films related to the Vietnam War, including the wonderful "Coming Home." Cimino's film may be the most controversial of the bunch as Cimino clearly took dramatic license with the storyline, and manufactured details that enhanced his story. The film plays best when the group of friends are in their small town, as the intimacy and meticulous detail offered by Cimino truly captures the feelings and thoughts of the time. The scenes of Vietnam, however, present as so over-the-top dramatic that it becomes more challenging to buy into them and, ultimately, to care about their resolution. Cimino, in particular, paints the Vietnamese quite negatively and not always accurately. Of course, many of these things would not have been known to the American public, especially in 1978, and the film played well to critics and public alike.
The film ultimately works because of the inherent dramatics of the script, the magnificent cinematography/editing and the performances of Walken, DeNiro and Streep. Together, these three simply captivate the screen and even when everything feels over-the-top one can't help but be sitting there going "Wow. Oh wow."
So, almost despite Cimino's occasionally histrionic direction and dramatic license with the script, "The Deer Hunter" is a powerful tale of friendship, America, war and its impact. Powered by the performances of its leading actors and combined with awesome production design, "The Deer Hunter" remains a stand-out among the 70's films produced as a result of the Vietnam War.