Deer Hunter

Deer Hunter

4.0 12
Director: Michael Cimino

Cast: Michael Cimino, Robert De Niro, John Cazale, John Savage


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One of several 1978 films dealing with the Vietnam War (including Hal Ashby's Oscar-winning Coming Home), Michael Cimino's epic second feature The Deer Hunter was both renowned for its tough portrayal of the war's effect on American working class steel workers and notorious for its ahistorical use of Russian roulette in the Vietnam sequences. StructuredSee more details below


One of several 1978 films dealing with the Vietnam War (including Hal Ashby's Oscar-winning Coming Home), Michael Cimino's epic second feature The Deer Hunter was both renowned for its tough portrayal of the war's effect on American working class steel workers and notorious for its ahistorical use of Russian roulette in the Vietnam sequences. Structured in five sections contrasting home and war, the film opens in Clairton, PA, as Mike (Robert De Niro), Nick (Christopher Walken), and Stan (John Cazale, in his last film) celebrate the wedding of their friend Steve (John Savage) and go on a final deer hunt before the men leave for Vietnam. Mike treats hunting as a test of skill, lecturing Stan about the value of "one shot" deer slaying and brushing off Nick's urgings to appreciate nature's beauty. As Mike ruminates post-hunt, the film cuts to the horror of Vietnam, where the men are captured by Vietcong soldiers who force Mike and Nick to play Russian roulette for the V.C.'s amusement. Mike turns the game to his advantage so they can escape captivity, but the men are permanently scarred by the episode. Steve loses his legs; Nick vanishes in the Saigon Russian roulette parlors. Mike returns alone to Clairton a changed man, as he rejects the killing of the deer hunt and finds solace with Nick's old girlfriend Linda (Meryl Streep). Disgusted by the antics of his male cohorts at home, Mike decides to bring Steve back from a veterans' hospital, and he returns to Saigon to find Nick. As Saigon falls, Mike discovers how far gone Nick is; the survivors gather in Clairton for a funeral breakfast, singing an impromptu rendition of "God Bless America."

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Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble - Ed Hulse
Winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Director -- and a slew of other awards all over the world -- Michael Cimino's extraordinary Vietnam drama The Deer Hunter accomplished a number of things. For one, it demonstrated that leading lady Meryl Streep, who had heretofore only been seen in supporting roles, was one of the screen's great actresses. For another, it established Cimino, a relative newcomer, as a formidable talent (although he subsequently failed to live up to the promise of this auspicious sophomore outing). And it cemented Robert De Niro's burgeoning reputation as a dependable if offbeat leading man. A lengthy, intelligent film that employed literary references in a stylistic way -- planting seeds early on that would flower into memorable scenes -- The Deer Hunter easily sustained its three-hour running time with inventively staged and beautifully acted set pieces that still linger in the memories of those who saw the picture during its initial theatrical engagement. De Niro, John Savage, and Christopher Walken (who won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance) play three buddies from a Pennsylvania steel town, drafted in the 1960s and sent to Vietnam, where shattering experiences irrevocably alter their lives. Streep plays the young woman beloved by both the De Niro and Walken characters. Cimino's narrative structure rambles, and viewers who prefer films that move briskly along strictly linear paths might get restive. But the writer-director knew what he was doing; his protracted emphasis on ceremony and cultural ritual -- demonstrated early in the film with both a wedding sequence and a deer hunt that precedes the friends' deployment to Vietnam -- has resonance in a later episode that has gone down in cinematic history as one of the most harrowing ever: the game of Russian roulette forced upon De Niro and Walken by their Vietcong captors, depicted by Cimino in almost unendurable detail. Intense, powerful, and fascinating, The Deer Hunter not only rates highly among those distinctive '70s films that changed the way Hollywood made movies, it offers a look at some of moviedom's most popular and talented performers in their salad days, showing the promise that each ultimately fulfilled.
All Movie Guide - Lucia Bozzola
Realizing that the three-hour film would need to be a prestige event to draw public interest, Universal followed Grease producer Allan Carr's advice and opened The Deer Hunter for one week for Academy Award consideration in December 1978, putting off the national opening until February 1979. The gambit succeeded. The film won the Best Picture prize from the New York Film Critics' Circle and got nine Academy Award nominations as it went into national release, including Best Picture, Best Director, and acting nods for Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, and Meryl Streep. The movie went on to beat Coming Home for Best Picture and Best Director and also picked up Oscars for Walken's performance, Sound, and Editing. As the film's acclaim grew, it also aroused objections to the depiction of the Vietcong as racist from, among others, Coming Home star Jane Fonda, as well as criticisms from numerous Vietnam reporters that director Michael Cimino was ill-informed about real Vietnam experience, not having served in the war himself. Regardless of the disputes over the veracity of the Russian roulette scenes, they create an indelible metaphor for warfare and its atmosphere of sudden, random violence. While the press notes suggest that the final song was meant to be affirmative, the searing sense of loss that builds up throughout the film renders it profoundly ambiguous. This combination of ambivalence, brutality, and controversy echoed American culture's experience of Vietnam, making The Deer Hunter an even more telling cultural artifact than may have been intended. The film's awards and acclaim manifested Hollywood's willingness finally to reckon one way or another with a war that had been all but absent from movie screens while it was happening, leading the way for such later films as Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket (1987) and Oliver Stone's Platoon (1986) and Born on the Fourth of July (1989). With the prizes and dissension, The Deer Hunter became a popular hit, enabling Cimino to have full artistic freedom for his next film, the financially disastrous Heaven's Gate.

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Product Details

Release Date:
Original Release:
Universal Studios
Region Code:

Special Features

Deleted and Extended Scenes; Feature Commentary with Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond and Film Journalist Bob Fisher; 100 Years of Universal: Academy Award Winners; Theatrical Trailer

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Robert De Niro Michael
John Cazale Stan
John Savage Steven
Meryl Streep Linda
Christopher Walken Nick
George Dzundza John
Chuck Aspergren Axel
Shirley Stoler Steven's Mother
Rutanya Alda Angela
Pierre Segui Julien
Mady Kaplan Axel's Girl
Christopher Colombi Wedding Man
Joseph Strand Bingo Caller
Amy Wright Bridesmaid
Mary Ann Haenel Stan's Girl
Richard Kuss Linda's Father
Joe Grifasi Bandleader
Paul D'Amato Sergeant
Michael Wollet Stock Boy

Technical Credits
Michael Cimino Director,Original Story,Producer,Screenwriter
Del Acevedo Makeup
Ed Butterworth Makeup
Joann Carelli Associate Producer,Consultant/advisor
Fred Cramer Special Effects
Michael Deeley Producer
Louis Garfinkle Original Story,Screenwriter
Richard C. Goddard Set Decoration/Design
Dick Goddard Set Decoration/Design
Alan Hicks Set Decoration/Design
Darin Knight Sound/Sound Designer
Nick McLean Camera Operator
Stanley Myers Score Composer
Charles Okun Asst. Director
John Peverall Producer
Quinn K. Redeker Original Story
Marion Lignana Rosenberg Associate Producer
Fred Schuler Camera Operator
Eric Seelig Costumes/Costume Designer
Barry Spikings Producer
Kim Edgar Swados Art Director
Deric Washburn Original Story,Screenwriter
Peter Zinner Editor
Vilmos Zsigmond Cinematographer

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Scene Index

Disc #1 -- Deer Hunter
1. Main Titles: Clairton, PA [13:54]
2. Welsh's Lounge [8:43]
3. The Wedding [29:53]
4. The Deer Hunter [12:29]
5. The Last Round [3:44]
6. Vietnam [3:07]
7. Captured [4:38]
8. Russian Roulette [9:44]
9. The Escape [1:45]
10. The Life Left Behind [8:32]
11. Coming Home [8:02]
12. Veterans [42:57]
13. The Fall of Saigon [6:39]
14. Playing the American [2:32]
15. Last Rites [14:32]
16. God Bless America (End Titles) [6:05]


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