Warning, this review contains spoilers
The Deer Hunter is a movie of three acts with the main characters being Robert DeNiro, Christopher Walken and some other guy.
The film opens with the three main characters and some friends leaving a steel mill, they go to a bar and drink, we get a quick scene of Meryl Streep getting beaten up by her Dad, then back to the main characters. If I make it sound like there's not much happening, it's because there isn't. There's very little dialogue between the main characters and what they do say is mumbled or unimportant.
Then we get into the official first act which is the characters at a wedding reception, this first act of the movie is about an hour long, nothing happens. When you have a movie in which you intend to build the tension or develop characters, you should really develop the characters. All we learn in the first hour of the movie is that Meryl Streep has an abusive father, she's pregnant and engaged to Walken, the baby isn't his, but he intends to raise it anyway. De Niro is the leader of the group and they're all due to head out to Vietnam. That's about it.
By the end of the hour, the only shit you give about the characters is based on the actors who play them, they are basically cut out characters, they have no deep defining moments, no gems of dialogue, it's long, it's boring. Long time fans are going to argue with me on this, but I honestly think that this first hour could be boiled down to twenty minutes and nothing of value would be lost.
The men leave the reception and go off to hunt a deer, they shoot a deer, Walken says he prefers to kill deer with one shot.
De Niro is hiding in a bush whilst a Viet Cong shoots an injured woman carrying a baby, who falls down and is subsequently eaten by pigs.
I haven't cut anything out of the plot summary at all. That is literally what happens, they are hunting deer, then De Niro's in a bush and a woman is being eaten by pigs.
The next paragraph details exactly what happens in the movie at this point, I've not skipped anything, this is exactly what happens.
De Niro jumps up and burns the soldier to death with a flame thrower. We see Walken and SomeOtherGuy in a helicopter and then they land and Walken is surprised to see De Niro, the camera zooms in on some soldiers walking in the distance. The camera then goes down a river and a Vietnamese(?) guy is a poking a bamboo cage in the river with a stick as he stands on the dock of a river hut. De Niro, Walken and SomeOtherGuy are in a cage beneath the hut up to their chests in water.
This is exactly how it happens in the movie, I even rewound to make sure that the dvd didn't skip a scene by mistake. One minute they are in a field flame throwering people, the next minute they are in a bamboo cage.
How did they get captured? When did they get captured? Who captured them? Who are the other Vietnamese people in the cage with them? What happened to their helicopter? What happened to the other soldiers they were with? Don't focus on these questions for too long, because the film decides they aren't important enough to answer in this film.
Their capturers who from this point we shall call the eBil!Soldiers are having fun with their prisoners by forcing them to play Russian Roulette. The prisoners are pulled out one by one and have a headband wrapped around their heads to disguise the blood squibs and are forced to pull the trigger against their own heads until someone loses. SomeOtherGuy freaks out and De Niro comforts him while Walken looks on with the same reaction shot four or five times till it's SomeOtherGuy and De Niro's turn in the game. SomeOtherGuy points the gun more or less towards the ceiling, pulls the trigger and skims his head with a bullet. The eBil!Soliders point and laugh as SomeOtherGuy cries, freaks out and then is dragged away to the river cage whilst a stage hand drops a rat on his face which drops into the water to presumably drown.
De Niro is returned to the cage under the hut for a quick plan with Walken, the eBil!Soldiers for some reason fire a gun into the cage which misses them and they plot their escape, De Niro is sure they leave SomeOtherGuy, but Walken insists they take him with them.
De Niro and Walken are put into the game and they convince the dumb, eBil!Soldiers to give them more bullets which they use to help them escape. They grab SomeOtherGuy and float off on a tree branch, a helicopter finally turns up, but only Walken gets aboard as SomeOtherGuy falls into the water, breaking his legs and De Niro dives in after him.
Walken is taken to a military hospital where he has plot contrived amnesia, De Niro runs into a caravan of people getting the fuck out of town and dumps SomeOtherGuy on them. Instead of sending Walken back to America, he is allowed to wander aimlessly through Saigon's red light district where he meets AFrenchDude, who gets him into Russian roulette games. Walken enters and pulls shenanigans by shooting at his opponent as well as himself which understandably upsets the crowd, De Niro turns up at one point, but fails to get Walken's attention and Walken drives off with AFrenchDude.
De Niro returns to the US and since he thinks that both SomeOtherguy and Walken are dead it's ok for him to get together with Meryl Streep. He goes hunting with his friends from the beginning of the film, but is unable to shoot a deer because he doesn't want to kill anything else.
Eventually he goes looking for SomeOtherGuy and discovers he's in a veteran's hospital and someone has been sending him buttloads of cash every month from Saigon and also he has no legs. De Niro is now convinced that it's Walken who is sending the money and heads out to find him.
He tracks him down eventually in a Russian Roulette bar and concludes that Walken thinks De Niro and SomeOtherGuy are dead, but also still has amnesia, then who the hell is sending the money? De Niro put himself in the game, Walken doesn't seem to know who he is, (who is sending the money? why doesn't he just wait for Walken or ask to speak to him?) De Niro notices track marks in Walken arms. Walken who is all spaced out and says 'One shot' with a smile as De Niro reminds him, then Walken shoots himself in the head and dies.
De Niro takes Walken's body home and they have a funeral for him, God Bless America, The End.
At three hours long, this is film is long and feels long. Mostly because very little happens in it and despite what the movie's defenders have told me in the past you can't easily say it's a movie about characters because we don't get to really get to know the characters. We get the idea that these people are great friends and have been all their lives, but this is always something we're told rather than have it demonstrated on screen. The dialogue is awkward and usually quiet whenever there is any, often a lot of the scenes involve a lot of changing camera angles and stuff which you can't really class as scenery porn because we're not looking at beautiful scenery, we're just looking at random shit.
I don't see Vietnam movies as Vietname movies, to me they're just war movies, maybe this is because I'm 29 and it was long over by the time I was born, maybe it it's because I'm English and as I understand it, the US lost that war pretty badly. I'm sure that Vietnam vets had a pretty rough time out there and to someone who lived through the experience this movie will have a totally different kind of resonance, but as an Englishman seeing this 33 year old movie for the first time I can only judge it from it's merits from my own point of view.
I can't even give three of the greatest actors of all time, De Niro, Streep and Walken, any props for their performances because they just didn't have any scenes in which they could show off the subtle nuances of their craft with an inspired speech or a mental breakdown. I honestly do not see what it is about this movie which gets it lauded as one of the greatest movie of all time. There's practically no character development, barely a plot and insubstantial dialogue.
2 out of 10