Monday, 19 November 2012

Vietnam Week 7: One Gun, One Round.

Out in the world of films there are more than a few war films. Perhaps this is because, as a species, we have so many wars. Whatever the reason is, it seems that we can never get tired of one war. The war that, if you weren't there, you can never imagine. Described by more than one solider as a hell on Earth and claimed 58,282 U.S. Solider's lives. The war in Vietnam. I stated that I didn't want to include films that were set mostly AFTER Vietnam with just a little bit about the actual war. However, today's film is an exception. It is one of the most famous Vietnam based films and so here it is, our final film: The Deer Hunter

In a small industrial town, a group of friends, three of which are going to Vietnam, are spending their last couple of days together enjoying themselves. Steve (John Savage) gets married and a going away party is thrown for him, Nick (Christopher Walken), and Michael (Robert De Niro). These three, along with Stan (John Cazale), John (George Dzundza), and Axel (Chuck Aspegren), decide they should deer hunt together for the last time before war. Sudden jump to Vietnam  The three friends are reunited as Michael burns an enemy alive but soon find themselves captured. The men are held in a half submerged pit until forced to play Russian Roulette for their lives. Michael gets them out of it alive, but returning home for him just is not the same.

The film gets red band towards the end.

Simply flawless acting from all sides. Firstly, at the beginning, the friends seem to be just that: friends. But the realistic aspect is how genuine that friendship feels. It balances between fights and fun just like a real friendship. The second half of the film, however, is almost a one man show. De Niro steps the fine line between psychologically disturbed and simply haunted. As a man trying to fit back into the society he once knew, De Niro shows that Vietnam never really leaves you, even to the point of putting a gun to one of his closest friend's head. It is also there in simpler terms such as his jumpiness when someone drops a tray. Christopher Walken, as well, is a genius piece of casting. Thrown way over the line of psychologically disturbed, we see his sanity, not slip away but get smashed completely to the point where he physically cannot escape Russian Roulette. But, overall, a superb cast.

The film, in many ways, acts as a tribute to John Savage, who died from cancer shortly afte filming. May he always be remembered for his fantastic performance as Stan.

Somehow, despite being the longest of this week's films, The Deer Hunter also contains the most tension. From start to finish, the relationships built up in the group of friends (especially around Stan and Linda (portrayed by Meryl Streep)) constantly change and adapt as real friendships would, but also in terms of 'action' - I use the term in its loosest sense - which constantly builds up for perfect catharsis. The two (and a half) Russian Roulette scenes will leave you on the edge of your seat thanks to brilliant direction from Michael Cimino. Also, there are so many simple story lines overlapping that it adds a real depth to the film without over complicating it. Not just a good movie, but a truly fascinating analysis of the different effects of war on different people. Cimino did a lot of things to increase realism on set including real slapping, real loaded guns, keeping in scenes that were not the actors performing but actually complaining (See Savage complain about the rats. He was actually complaining to Cimino who kept it in.) These small things all paid off.

Completely deserving of its five Oscars (including: Director, Supporting Actor, Best Picture) and truly a film to live a  long life. Despite not focusing purely on the war, watching this film last almost gives a sense of how Chris Taylor and Captain Willard and Private Joker might have all felt after returning home alive at the ends of their films. The psychological aspect is thrilling. A must see.

Best Bit? Obviously, the two main Russian Roulette scenes are simply masterful film making. However, another moment that I'm sure is under appreciated is when Stan is messing around with his gun after Michael has returned from the war and Michael flips, proceeds to load the gun with one round and give Stan a glimpse of the hell he experienced in 'Nam by putting the gun to his head and pulling the trigger. The tension, acting, and general concept of the scene are simply outstanding.

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