Friday, December 3

Review: The Deer Hunter

Let me sum up what I know about the Vietnam war:

- The hippies were against it,
- The Americans lost it,
- It really, really sucked to be in it.

As you might have guessed, almost everything I know about this war comes from movies. But it's pretty amazing how alike most Vietnam movies are: they show some nice dudes who go off to war, and they slowly go absolutely mental. That's the basic plot of Full Metal Jacket, of Apocalypse Now and, yes, of this one. But even though this movie is considered just as much a classic as those other two movies, The Deer Hunter tells that simple story in such a boring way that you really shouldn't bother.

The movie stars Robert DeNiro, Cristopher Walken with a babyface and John Savage as the guys about to go to war. These are tough guys, which the movie shows by having them handle tons of molten steel in a factory. Subtle. We see these guys hanging out, getting drunk, and hunting deers. This goes on for almost an hour. And they talk an awful lot. A. Very. Awful. Lot. In one of the final scenes of this first hour or so, there is a bit where the bunch goes hunting and John Cazale (who plays one of the main characters friends) forgot his boots. He asks DeNiro if he can lend his spare pare. DeNiro refuses this, because Cazale always forgets his stuff. The rest of the guys tell him he's a dick, and eventually he lends Cazale his boots. This simple conversation takes more then 10 minutes to complete. Sure, it might typecast the characters, and it might be "realistic" but this endless torrent of dialogue makes their words almost meaningless. And it is boring as shit to watch. Besides, wasn't I watching a movie about the Vietnam war?

Yes. In a single cut, we are thrown from the safety of a late-night bar to the action in Vietnam (this is pretty awesome, I'll give the movie as much). DeNiro, Savage and Walken are captured by the Viet Cong and are forced to play Russian Roulette. This is the one part of the movie everybody remembers, and with reason. It is pretty damn good. It's tense, gory and it really shows these guys battling something as elemental as chance. Good stuff. But before you know it, they escape and all get hauled back to safety. Chris gets a chance to flex his acting skills in a great shot where he breaks down from the PTSD, and then it's back to America for these boys. And that is where the shit really hits the fan.

When the guys come back, something happens that no-one ever saw coming: the soldiers are having trouble getting back to their normal lives. Gasp! This takes up the full final hour of the movie. As you can imagine, this is once again boring as shit. We see De Niro breaking down in his hotel room and crying on his bed. This scene lasts forever, and tells you something that you could have guessed would happened from the get-go. Maybe it was shocking back then, but it's not like PTSD is some problem that gets ignored on a large scale anymore.

I think that's the main problem with this movie. We already know what it's trying to tell us. This was one of the first movies about the Vietnam war (made even before Apocalypse Now, but that wasn't really about the war), and it was pretty explosive back then. But watching this movie is like watching a movie about the Holocaust now: we know it happened. It was terrible. But unless you can show us something we haven't seen before, it just won't move us anymore. I'm sorry if I'm a jaded person, but I just don't feel any great human tragedy in this movie, nor do I think many people from my age will. I won't advocate a boring movie. This one can get kicked out of the canon right away, if you ask me.


P.S. If you're interested in an original take on the Vietnam War, check out Rescue Dawn.

Loads of good songs about the Vietnam war, but I think this is one you've never heard before. Listen to the lyrics, they are incredibly powerful.

1 comment:

  1. I just saw...half of it. It is overrated and boring. It's not even that well made. The editing's confusing, and the live footage is painfully obvious. Robert Deniro and Christopher Walken's performances are great, but not nearly enough to hold the movie.