Camaraderie & Russian Roulette
Three Pennsylvania steelworkers, Mikey (Robert De Niro), Nick (Christopher Walken) and Steven (John Savage), obey Uncle Sam’s call to fight in Vietnam, leaving behind wives and sweethearts, including shopworker Linda (Meryl Streep) who may be in love with more than one of them. Before they leave, they attend Steven’s wedding: a ceremony in which, without realising it, they are saying goodbye to their old lives. These guys like nothing more than a laugh, a drink and hunting deer in the mountains.
The Deer Hunter, Michael Cimino‘s second movie following the pleasingly throwaway Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, can, and should, be read as an epic treatise on endurance, and, in particular, the indomitable spirit of the American male. The near three-hour narrative tracing the classic human parabola from wedding bliss to funeral blues.
John Cazale, who was 42 at the time of filming, had appeared in only four previous pictures. But what a quartet! The Godfather (1972), The Conversation, The Godfather Part II (both 1974) and Dog Day Afternoon (1975). Visibly losing his battle to cancer, director Michael Cimino agreed to film all of Cazale’s scenes in The Deer Hunter first. When the studio said they wanted Cazale off the movie because of his health, Cimino and Cazale’s then girlfriend, Meryl Streep threatened to walk away. The studio relented, but said they wouldn’t cover his insurance, so Robert De Niro fronted the bill.
This film received nine Academy Award nominations (including Best Actor (Robert De Niro), Best Supporting Actress (Meryl Streep), Best Cinematography (by Vilmos Zsigmond – who had just filmed Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)), and Best Original Screenplay), and won five Oscars: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Christopher Walken), Best Director, Best Sound, and Best Film Editing.